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Brenner: the data behind the MLS' latest big-money move for a striker

2PB84JF FC Cincinnati forward Brenner plays during the second half of an MLS soccer match against the Seattle Sounders Saturday, March 11, 2023, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Last month, FC Cincinnati’s Brenner became the latest MLS striker to secure a move to one of Europe’s top leagues that will go down as one of the top-10 most expensive transfers out of the U.S.

After being turned away in January with a bid for the Brazilian, Udinese’s persistence paid off as the Serie A club and FC Cincinnati agreed to terms which will see Brenner head to Italy in July.

The initial $10m (£8m) transfer will bring to an end Brenner’s two-year stay at the club currently level on points behind leaders New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference, and follows on from Chicago Fire forward Jhon Durán moving to Aston Villa in the Premier League for a fee of $22m in January.

Given the early promise of Cincinnati’s season so far, they appear to be content with the efforts of the partnership of Brendon Vazquez and Sergio Santos to spearhead them into the MLS play-offs as genuine contenders.

But what loss will Brenner be to Cincinnati’s roster after suffering defeat just once thru their opening ten games?

FC Cincinnati forwards Brenner and Brandon Vazquez
2MB21M5 FC Cincinnati forward Brandon Vazquez (19), forward Brenner (9) and Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Florian Jungwirth (26) fight for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, July 13, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)


PFF shooting grade: 73.5 (position rank: 27th/88)

Brenner hasn’t quite lived up to the breakout season of 2022, missing Cincy’s last three games against St.Louis, Portland and New England, but his production in front of goal has still been serviceable at the grade of 73.5.

His tally of 18 goals last season helped the team to reach the play-offs for the first time in their third season post-expansion, as the $13m signing from Sao Paolo added six assists.

Together with 18 goals contributed from Vazquez, the duo forged a potent partnership which saw Brenner grade 81.9 and Vazquez at 80.1 – both worthy of top-20 rankings among strikers.

In 542 minutes of play this season, Brenner has mustered just one goal – a match-winner versus Seattle Sounders in March – while Vazquez has scored twice and generated a shooting grade of 77.5 to rank 17th.

Volume-wise, Brenner was a clear leader for Cincinnati in PFF's shots per-90 metric at 3.1, higher than Vazquez (2.5), Lucho Acosta (2.1) and Dominique Badji (2.0).

As for the player seemingly entrusted to form a new two-man attack, Sergio Santos’ grade of 78.2 is the highest amongst Cincinnati players to have attempted at least ten shots. From his 16 shots, the Brazilian has found the back of the net four times and has provided the third-highest number of chances created (7). A tally behind the usual suspects of Álvaro Barreal (25) and Acosta (22).


PFF challenge grade: 62.8 (position rank: 22nd/91)

On a low sample size of 28 challenge events, Brenner has earned a grade of 62.8. This may seem like a low grade but given the general dominance of central defenders, strikers typically score lower in grading.

By comparison, D.C. United forward Christian Benteke tops all strikers in challenge grading with 82.1. There is then a large drop-off to Toronto’s CJ Sapong in second with a grade of 73.1.

For Brenner, he is believed to be Udinese’s succession plan for Beto who appears set to leave the mid-table Serie A club in the summer. Beto profiles as a traditional No.9, which makes Brenner a signing who may need to improve on his 2022 aerial duels grade of 59.4 to fit into Friulian life.

Using their 2022 grades and a much larger sample, Vazquez ranked 40th overall at 60.0 and Santos impressed with his physicality at 71.1 – the sixth-best grade amongst strikers.

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