Through the first month of the 2022 Major League Soccer season, an American player tops the goal-scoring list. Brandon Vazquez of FC Cincinnati is in a three-way tie with five goals, an impressive start for the 23-year-old striker. Now in his sixth year as a professional, the dual-national appears to be putting everything together and taking an important step forward in his career.
Born in Chula Vista, California, Vazquez joined Club Tijuana in 2013. His days consisted of waking up at 5 a.m. for morning training, being dropped off at the border, waiting on (in) line, walking across, and taking an Uber. After being promoted to the first team, he made his debut in the Copa MX Apertura, playing 31 minutes in a 1-1 draw with Lobos BUAP.
“Some days I’d wait in line for five minutes and other days it was three hours,” Vazquez told USSoccer.com. “I learned about patience in those lines for sure. But mostly what I took from it was the passion I had for the game. The passion to be at training on time and learn what was to be learned.”
After several years in Mexico, he joined Major League Soccer expansion side Atlanta United for the inaugural season. “Brandon has the natural goal scoring ability you look for in young forwards,” said Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra. “He’ll have every opportunity to contribute to our first team and to develop and progress with the national team.”
In his first season, Vazquez appeared in 15 league and cup matches, scoring three times and assisting twice. His first goal came in his single-minute debut, registering the insurance tally in a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake. After suffering a hamstring injury in September, he was held out for the rest of the schedule.
Vazquez played sporadically over the next two seasons in Atlanta, “battling injuries” that included an MCL tear while “playing out of his natural position, primarily at winger.” He made 24 appearances, registering four goals in early rounds of the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and helping the club eventually claim the trophy. The following November, Nashville SC selected the striker in the MLS Expansion Draft but traded him to FC Cincinnati.
During his first season in the Queen City, Vazquez contributed two goals and two assists in 16 appearances. The club signed him to a multi-year contract extension, praising his “potential.” Last year, he improved with four goals and three assists in 31 matches. FC Cincinnati has struggled at the bottom of the table since making the move to MLS, but the striker showed signs of a breakthrough with three finishes in the final five fixtures.
“I feel like a lot of people didn’t know my potential in that way,” Vazquez shared with the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I saw a lot of negative stuff online, so I did know that a lot of people weren’t having that trust in me but I’ve always known that nobody sees what you’re doing behind the scenes… My only controlling factor is how I train, how I play, how I take care of myself and recover and rest. That’s all stuff that I can control.”
Despite a brief battle with COVID-19 that delayed his fitness, Vazquez opened the 2022 season as the undisputed starter for the first time in his career. After two bad results, Cincinnati took down Orlando City SC, 2-1, on the strength of his brace. The first goal was a well-taken finish after a perfectly timed cutting run between the center backs, the second a redirected header off a drilled cross.
The next week, Vazquez registered another brace and added an assist in a 3-1 result over Inter Miami. In the 24th minute, he rose to win a cross, beating the defenders and goalkeeper to the ball. His insurance goal, another header, sealed back-to-back victories for Cincinnati.
“I’m going to keep working hard and keep scoring goals and do the best I can to get wins for this team and for this city,” Vazquez said. “Since I’ve been younger, I’ve seen that only extra work gets you to a better place. I feel like all the extra work I do, I’ve been doing it for years and years now. I’ve just been patient, waiting and waiting.”
The most recent finish was a nifty bit of skill in a 4-3 loss to CF Montréal. Vazquez latched onto a deflected cross and was able to take two quick, skillful touches before scoring. His growing productivity and technical displays have some observers questioning whether he could be the answer for other teams with questions at the striker position.
At the international level, Vazquez is eligible to represent Mexico and the United States, accepting a call-up to the U-17 squad of the former program. He has mainly appeared with his birth nation and scored two of the three goals at the 2015 U-17 World Cup, a run that ended with a 1-0-2 record in the group stage. His last appearance came prior to the pandemic, playing with the U-23 team in a friendly.
A “serious striker” that can “hold the ball,” the 6’3” Vazquez has been praised as a “hard worker” who “always gives a good effort” and “wants to improve.” He pushes to find space and puts himself in position to receive the ball, fighting for aerial duels. The center forward describes himself as trying to bring “extra stuff to the table,” having “picked up pieces of everything, the best of all [his teammates].” His defensive statistics are above average, registering high numbers of pressures, tackles, interceptions, blocks, and clearance
“His upside, his potential is massive,” FC Cincinnati manager Pat Noonan said recently. “You can see that with his last two performances. Not just with the goals, but his ability to hold the ball, his ability to work defensively for our team. He does a lot of little things to help the group have success. In the end, as a striker, you have to finish plays off. And he’s doing that right now, so his overall performances for the group are what [are] helping us to have success and win games… He’s got the right mentality, though. He doesn’t think too much of himself after he has a successful day or a successful game.”
While currently enjoying torrid form, Vazquez is in all likelihood too far outside of the picture for the 2022 World Cup. After December, he could find himself the subject of the growing recruiting war between the USMNT and Mexico, provided his goal scoring continues. The striker has long shown hints of great potential and is now taking full advantage of his opportunities, potentially leading a suffering FC Cincinnati out of the depths of MLS.