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Brenner switch shows MLS pulling power on the rise

By MURRAY GREIG | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-19 09:25
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FC Cincinnati's record signing Brenner da Silva has sent a clear signal that North America's Major League Soccer is targeting Brazil's rising stars, rather than veterans who are past their prime.

In the biggest transfer of a South American player to MLS, Brazilian giant Sao Paulo sold Brenner to Cincinnati for a reported $15 million in February, on condition it would retain a percentage of the rights to the 21-year-old forward who scored 22 goals last season, including 11 in 27 Brazilian championship matches.

After leading the lines for Brazil's U-17 and U-20 national teams, Brenner quickly established himself as Sao Paulo's top offensive threat and was on the radar of a half-dozen European clubs, including Arsenal.

He thinks his move to MLS could pave the way for more of Brazil's best young players to follow.

"It opens so many doors. After my transfer happened, more conversations started in Brazil about other players doing the same thing," Brenner said through a translator during a virtual news conference to mark last weekend's opening of the new MLS season.

"After this, in Brazil they started to pay more attention to MLS. It's a good opportunity, it's great for everyone involved."

A product of Sao Paulo's famous academy, Brenner's starry play saw him dubbed "the new Gabriel Jesus", in reference to the Brazil and Manchester City star.

"So many people thought I was going to follow that route to Europe, but I'm very happy with the decision I made," he said. "When they presented the MLS project to me, I enjoyed it. I'm just excited to get started, follow a different route."

The past few seasons have seen a steady increase in Brazilian talent coming to MLS, thanks largely to increased relationships between clubs and Brazilian executives shaping the North American league, including FC Dallas' Andre Zanotta and Orlando City's Luiz Muzzi.

The new U-22 Player Initiative, in which clubs are incentivized to either re-sign homegrown talent to richer deals or acquire players from abroad for up to three roster spots with cap relief, also helps.

This offseason the Seattle Sounders triggered Joao Paulo's purchase option, the Vancouver Whitecaps signed Caio Alexandre, New York City acquired Thiago Andrade, Alexandre Pato signed with Orlando, and Fabio signed with the New York Red Bulls.

But as the player pipeline heats up, Brenner has a word of advice for other Brazilians contemplating an MLS move: "In the beginning, to be honest, it was very cold here in Cincinnati. That was very strange for me. Bring warm clothes!"

Meanwhile, MLS has confirmed that the CONCACAF Nations League finals will be played June 3-6 in Denver, Colorado.

The semifinals, third-place match and final will all be played at Empower Field, the home of the NFL's Denver Broncos. The June 3 semifinals will be followed by the finals three days later.

"The CONCACAF Nations League includes all 41 of our member associations, making it a true celebration of our football, our region and our unity," CONCACAF president and FIFA vice-president Victor Montagliani said.

"The 2019 group stage was a huge success in delivering more competitive football for all men's national teams across CONCACAF.Now we can look forward to a great final four in the outstanding facility that is Denver's Empower Field at Mile High, and to crowning a first ever CONCACAF Nations League champion."

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