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The Cincinnati Preview, Part II

Cincinnati has been consistently middle of the pack this year. When we first met with them, they were 6th in the East; they currently sit 8th. They are weirdly consistent at home and on the road. At home, they are 4-4-6, while on the road they are 4-4-5. If you're an optimist, you might look at this and think this is good news, as their mediocre home record might counterbalance Charlotte's dismal road record (we still are only 2-10-2 on the road).




Shots per game

Shots on target per game

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

Points (standing)

WhoScored team rating (SofaScore team rating)

Charlotte FC




34 (31.7)

44 (37.6)

32 (12th in the East)

6.53 (6.77)

FC Cincinnati




45 (42.2)

48 (40.4)

35 (8th in the East)

6.61 (6.82)

Cincy is an odd team. They don't possess the ball (5th to last in the league) and are middle of the pack when it comes to shots/90. However, when we look at shots on target per 90, they become elite for the league (5th best). Of course, much of this efficiency has to do with their man up top, Brandon Vazquez, and his diminutive partner, Luciano Acosta. We'll discuss them both in depth below, but there are a few other players--Álvaro Barreal and Brenner--who are of interest and will cause us problems.

When I look at the above numbers and then their roster, some theories as to their mediocrity come to mind. First and foremost, I think this is an unbalanced team. You have elite players in Vazquez and Acosta, above-average, young, improving players in Barreal and Brenner, and some solid professionals in Yuya Kubo and Junior Moreno. Then you have players like Geoff Cameron, who at 37 is very much at the end of his career but still plays (too much), or Dominique Badji, who gets a lot of playing time (11.4 90s on the year), but hasn't been effective in probably 3 years. Badji had 5 goals last year with Colorado in 12 appearances, but that was on 1.6 xG, so not exactly a super sustainable rate.

One of the things I'll be fascinated to watch with this Cincinnati team is whether they build around Vazquez, Acosta, Brenner, and Barreal before one, or more, of those young players (Vazquez, Brenner, and Barreal are all 23 and under) leave. If they can get some better players, especially in the midfield and backline, then this will be an incredibly dangerous team to face.



According to the MLS Availability Report, Cincy is dealing with 4 injuries. Three of these players-- defender Ronald Matarrita and goalkeepers Kenneth Vermeer and Beckham Sunderland--are listed as out, while midfielder Harrison Robledo is listed as questionable. Sunderland is listed as out due to concussion protocol, although I'm not sure where in the process he is and if he might be back for this game (though he's a 19-year-old who has never featured at the MLS level, so it doesn't really matter).

Brandon Vazquez

This week, FBref released some new data: match and assist logs.

Cincinnati vs. Atlanta, 8/13, via MLS
Cincinnati vs. Atlanta, 8/13, via MLS

Not all players have them yet, which isn't surprising as they have a large database, but to explore it a bit more, I took a look at some Cincinnati players. There are some interesting things to be gleaned from just looking at how some of these players have scored and what connections this team has.

Vazquez gets a lot of the attention for this team, and for good reason. With 16 goals and 4 assists in 25 starts (26 total appearances), the young American is having a true breakout season. He's at 13.0 xG, so he's overperforming it a bit, but as I've said many times: the best finishers will overperform their xG. What would really excite me as a Cincy fan (and USMNT fans if Berhalter is smart) is that none of these goals are PKs. There is no inflation happening with this man's goal return.

Cincinnati at RBNY, 8/20, via MLS
Cincinnati at RBNY, 8/20, via MLS

So, to test out FBref's new data and to look into Cincy, I started with Vazquez's goal logs. The first thing I wanted to know was how does this man score goals. FBref has him as 73% right-footed*, so I was thinking he's probably scoring a lot with that foot. Additionally, because he's 6'2", I figured he's probably scoring a lot with his head too. Well, this man has 5 goals with his right foot, 5 goals with his left foot, and 6 goals with his head. He's just an all-around threat. Perfect.

*Note: Footedness on FBref is determined by how often a player passes with either foot. That does allow for some discrepancy between how a player scores versus how they pass. With rare exceptions, though, it shows a player's preferred foot. The fact that a player like Vazquez will primarily play the ball with one foot but can score with either is the crucial point.

Next, I was hoping that maybe his goalscoring had some kind of intense streakiness to it. Most goalscorers will go through periods of goals and droughts, but I was hoping Vazquez had like 8 goals in 5 games or something. Well, that's not the case. He scored his first two goals on March 12th and hasn't stopped scoring since. He had a bit of a drought in April, as he scored on April 2nd but didn't get another until May 7th. Since then, he's scored at least once every 3 weeks, give or take. Since July, he's been nearly unstoppable, scoring 8 times since the beginning of that month.

Cincinnati vs. Columbus, 8/27, via MLS
Cincinnati vs. Columbus, 8/27, via MLS

So we have a young, improving striker who scores with both feet and his head, doesn't go through prolonged periods of not scoring, and shows no discrepancy with his underlying metrics. Again, he's going to be a problem.

Vazquez-Acosta Connection?

With all that said, I did find something interesting in his goal log. It's not interesting in the sense of being a weakness, though.

Acosta is one of the best CAMs in the league and has 9 assists on the season, to go along with 6 goals. This assist return is good for second in the league (again, ignore MLS's ridiculous hockey assist tally of 15 assists; 9 is plenty impressive). He's behind only Diego Fagúndez of Austin. As a quick aside, no one is talking about Fagúndez enough. He's having a spectacular season. Back to Acosta: this man has 13 goals and 17 assists in 55 appearances for Cincinnati. Elite.

Now, why am I bringing him up in relation to Vazquez? What is interesting about an elite assist maker connecting with an elite finisher? Well, that's the thing: Vazquez and Acosta don't connect as well as you might expect. Of Vazquez's 16 goals, only 2 have been assisted by Acosta: his first of the season (March 12) and this past weekend against Columbus. That's not to say Acosta hasn't been involved in these goals. If we go back to the pass or action before the assist, Acosta is involved in 5 of these goals, in addition to the 2 he assisted. Vazquez also hasn't assisted on any of Acosta's 6 goals. Vazquez's primary provider has actually been Barreal, who has 4 assists to Vazquez. In fact, of Barreal's 5 assists, 4 of them have been to Vazquez.

This got me wondering if the passing networks backed up this "lack" of connection. Let's take a look at the past 3 games. According to MLS, they've been in a 5-3-2 in each of these matches (see lineups above). FBref has them as a 3-4-1-2. I'm not too worried about this discrepancy as it's probably the same system represented in different ways. At the end of the day, aside from a few games, this is a back 3 team. To the passing networks!

Cincinnati passing network vs. Atlanta, via MLS
Cincinnati passing network vs. Atlanta, via MLS
Cincinnati passing network at RBNY, via MLS
Cincinnati passing network at RBNY, via MLS
Cincinnati passing network vs. Columbus, via MLS
Cincinnati passing network vs. Columbus, via MLS

Note that Vazquez is #19, Acosta is #10 and, what do you know, there isn't a massive connection between the two. The Columbus game is especially hard to see, but it's a thin line to Vazquez and a thicker line to Brenner (#9). It's very clear from these networks that Acosta and Brenner have a much stronger in-game connection when it comes to passing. Against Atlanta they connected 17 times, against RBNY they connected 11 times, and against Columbus they connected 12 times. Compare that with the Vazquez-Acosta connection, which sits at 8 against Atlanta, 6 against RBNY, and 5 against Columbus. Admittedly, this is a small sample size and maybe with a larger sample, this wouldn't hold. To this, I say, who has the time to look through all of these games? Not me! So I'll make conclusions on small sample sizes, thank you very much!

Vazquez heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Vazquez heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

At the end of the day, I don't think this is a problem for Cincinnati--I mean, it's clearly not impacting the effectiveness of either player. I imagine if you watch tape what you would see is Vazquez's movements making room for Acosta, and vice versa. There's no way they aren't helping each other out on the pitch. I just thought the concrete lack of connections was interesting.

Vazquez's heatmap also shows much more than just a traditional 9. He's very much involved in the middle of the field, especially on the right side. Of course, when his team progresses up the field, so does he, crashing into the penalty box, especially around the penalty spot. This is further shown as his average distance for goals is 7.75 yards, with his longest goal of the year being from this past week (17 yards out). Of his 16 goals, only 5 of them have been from 10 yards or farther; 7 of his goals have come from 5 yards out or less.

As with his connection with Acosta, there isn't anything wrong with this. In fact, I would argue it's a good thing. The further you get from the goal, the harder it is to score. Give me a striker who knows his way around and in the box any day. Vazquez fits that bill.

The one thing FBref's goal log is missing that would make it perfect is the xG of each goal. Could I go through each game and find it? Sure, but, again, who has time for that?


Since Acosta is not connecting heavily with Vazquez but is much more active with Brenner, let's talk more about the young Brazilian. The 22-year-old young DP is in his 2nd season with Cincinnati and, overall, has been hugely effective. He scored 11 goals as a 20-year-old with São Paulo, which precipitated his move to Cincy. In his first season, he scored 8 goals and had 1 assist in 33 starts. This year, he's been even better with 9 goals and 4 assists.

Brenner heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Brenner heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

It was a slow start for Brenner this year, as he didn't start a game until April 16th. Even after this start, he hadn't cemented his place. He started 3 consecutive games but then came off the bench for 2 straight. He's now a definitive starter, having started each of the last 13 games for Cincinnati and scored all 9 of his goals during that time.

He does have a bit of that streakiness that I was hoping to see in Vazquez, as he had 5 goals in 3 games between June 24th and July 3rd, then went 4 games without one (though he did have a 2-assist match), before getting 4 goals in 3 games between July 30th and August 13th. He hasn't scored in the past 2 games. Like Vazquez, none of his goals are PKs (2 of his 8 last year were), so no inflation here!

The Front Three

Of Brenner's 9 goals, a whopping 6 of them have been assisted by Acosta! Similar to Vazquez, Brenner is also multi-footed when it comes to goalscoring. While FBref lists him as 84% right-footed, he's scored 4 goals with his right and 4 with his left. Unlike Vazquez, only one of his goals has come via the head, which is surprising since he also has good height (6'2.5"). Maybe the physical size of Brenner--152 lbs compared with 185 lbs for Vazquez--helps explain this discrepancy. Brenner is only in the 15th percentile for Aerials Won, while Vazquez is in the 80th (when compared with MLS forwards over the past 365 days).

I do think these two forwards balance each other out exceptionally well. Take a look at these percentiles from both players:

Brenner shooting percentiles vs. MLS forwards over the past 365 days, via FBref
Brenner shooting percentiles vs. MLS forwards over the past 365 days, via FBref
Vazquez shooting percentiles vs. MLS forwards over the past 365 days, via FBref
Vazquez shooting percentiles vs. MLS forwards over the past 365 days, via FBref
Brenner passing percentiles vs. MLS forwards over the past 365 days, via FBref
Brenner passing percentiles vs. MLS forwards over the past 365 days, via FBref
Vazquez passing percentiles vs. MLS forwards over the past 365 days, via FBref
Vazquez passing percentiles vs. MLS forwards over the past 365 days, via FBref

They're basically the reverse of each other: Vazquez puts the ball into the back of the net exceptionally well but is a mediocre to below-average passer. Brenner, meanwhile, is a mediocre goalscorer but above-average to good passer. Neither are perfect players, but when you pair them with each other and add Acosta's passings and playmaking ability to the equation, you have a scary front 3.

Take a look at Acosta's percentiles:

Acosta passing percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref
Acosta passing percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref
Acosta pass type percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref
Acosta pass type percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref
Acosta GCA and SCA percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref
Acosta GCA and SCA percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref
Acosta possession percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref
Acosta possession percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref

Acosta's passing is elite and he can complete any type of pass he wants. He creates goals and scoring opportunities at a high rate and can do that with his passing or his technical ability on the ball. In MLS, there are very few CAMs, or players in general, who are more impactful than him.

Matt Miazga

The final person of interest for this team is Matt Miazga, the Chelsea legend. Miazga has only played in 3 games for Cincinnati since coming over "from" Chelsea. Miazga never really played for Chelsea, appearing in 2 games way back in 2015-16. Like most young talent that goes to Chelsea, he was never developed at that club and instead spent his next 7 seasons on loan at a variety of teams, including Vitesse (2 years), Nantes (1 year), Reading (2 years), Anderlecht (1 year), and Alavés (1 year).

At Vitesse, Miazga played a lot (55 appearances, 44 starts), however, he would only make 8 appearances for Nantes, 38 for Reading, and 24 for Anderlecht. Last year at Alavés, he only appeared in 11 games (9 starts). Basically, when he has dropped down to a 2nd division team (Reading) or a top-division team in a less competitive European league (Dutch and Belgian leagues), he's played a decent amount. Any time he's been at a first-division team in a Big 5 European League (Nantes and Alavés), he's not featured much. MLS is probably his level.

It's way too early to tell how good Miazga is going to be, as he's only had those 3 games. At only 27, he should be entering his prime as a CB. This feels like a good move by Cincy to me. They address an area of concern, as Hagglund is decent while Cameron is old. If nothing else Miazga is hugely experienced and still relatively young. It feels like a low-risk, high-reward move for them. If Miazga can solidify their defense over the coming years and if they can retain their attackers, this Cincy team will be a factor in the league.


Charlotte saw Acosta and Vazquez in the first match, while Brenner came on as a sub (apparently as a wingback...). They're going to see these 3 together leading the line from the jump this weekend. I don't know what the status of Sobociński is, but Malanda's first game was against two of the most talented attackers in the league in Bernardeschi and Insigne. This week he might see 3 more, but on the road.

Walkes has been struggling a bit in recent games. Whether it is Jan or Malanda as his partner, he's going to need to step up. We need him to have a veteran presence in that backline for these young defenders. Bronico looks absolutely gassed, too, but if he can find something left in the tank, this would be a good time. Fuchs is pretty much what he is at this point in his career, but him having an abnormally good game would be clutch.

With the news that Santos and Byrne are available this weekend, I'll be curious to see how much of them we see. Brian Maurer had a good write-up of Byrne and what he can bring to the team. It fits a lot of what I saw with him when it came to the numbers.

Between the two, I think Byrne is the more likely to get a start with Santos coming off the bench if either does start. Maybe both do or maybe I have it backward. What both the numbers and video show of Byrne is that he is an incredibly attack-minded fullback. After watching video, Brian described him as almost a right winger. Considering our best option on the right wing (yes, THAT McKinzie Gaines) is still questionable, Byrne getting the nod might be useful.

Bronico will get the start in midfield and I'd expect Jones to join him. However, Lattanzio makes changes to the team very quickly at times so we might see McNeill back in there. If Santos can start, he should, though Bender wouldn't be a bad option either. I do think his defensive positioning is getting better. He still can't tackle to save his life, but at least he knows where he should be to do that.

I'd be shocked to not see Świderski lead the line this game and I'd like to see Jóźwiak continue to start on the left. I think he's looked better on that side than the right and he's a DP. Even if we can buy him down, I don't see us giving up on him after one subpar season (I also don't think we should). Vargas has been underwhelming to me, but he's also a young, talented player who could use the game minutes. Lattanzio isn't going to start Shinyashiki on either wing and Reyna isn't the future (maybe sooner rather than later, too), so I'm not sure what other options we have.

There aren't too many games left on the schedule and even fewer that we'll be expected to get points from. I don't believe we can be considered favorites to win any of our remaining games. With all that said, I'm weirdly optimistic that we'll show up this game. I'm really tempted to predict a win, but I think that might be taking it too far. I'm going out on a limb and saying Kamil gets his first (and maybe only...) goal of the season, though.

Prediction: Cincinnati 2 - Charlotte 2

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