MLS is a strange league; it is a league where a $13 million signing sits on the bench in favor of a $180,000 forward out of college. Such seems to be the case at FC Cincinnati where one of the biggest incoming transfers in MLS history has been substitute material at a FC Cincinnati team that sits tenth in the MLS East, out of the playoffs again, but has the league’s top scorer at the moment Brandon Vázquez with 5 goals.

For Brenner, MLS was supposed to be a steppingstone after a breakout season at Sao Paulo in Brazil where he scored 11 goals in 27 matches prior to his move to MLS. In Cincinnati, Brenner found himself at a club who has dumped more coaches for an array of reasons and fired their General Manager after yet another bad campaign. Today all the prospects of jumping to Europe look bleak and according to  Laurel Pfahler of Queen City Press, Brenner asked for a transfer back to Brazil, reportedly Inter of Porto Alegre. The deal was axed by the club who according to sources still see value in the Brazilian and hope to get him back on track, but more importantly recuperate their big investment.

In the world of MLS big spending Brenner is the league’s fourth all-time biggest transfer, with Esequiel Barco in third and Gonzalo "El Pity" Martínez in second, both also producing rather disappointing stints in MLS. Coming in fifth is Rodolfo Pizarro who was anything but impressive for Inter Miami.

As MLS continues to spend more the GMs need to spend wisely

Going after Gonzalo "El Pity" Martínez seemed like a no brainer for Atlanta United, Martinez was coming off of his best season at River Plate and was in his prime after being named South American player of the year. What Atlanta United scouts may not have known was Martinez had a history of being hot and cold during his near four years at River. Once at Atlanta United the talents of Pity came in spurts and when Atlanta United knew that Martinez was not the player to lead the club in the long term they got lucky and bagged a lot of cash with a transfer fee.

Esequiel Barco cost the five stripes $15 million dollars total, and while Barco showed flashes of brilliance the player never matured to a leader or a week in and week out producer. Barco left MLS to return to Argentina on loan to River Plate and continues to look like the unfinished product many MLS fans saw, a lot of raw talent that can score that amazing goal but usually dribbles his way into 4 defenders and gets dispossessed. How Atlanta United will find a suitor willing to pay big money for Barco seems to be a big mystery, especially that in River Plate Barco still looks like Barco, just four years older.

While Barco and Martinez were more refined players, or at least playing big roles prior to coming to MLS, Brenner was an enigma, a goal scorer who broke out just one season before signing in MLS. Before that Brenner had only 1 goal to his name in a handful of games played in the three years prior. It begs the question: What did FC Cincinnati staff see in Brenner in the first place?

One source familiar with MLS scouting states, “Some teams' whole scouting network is watching YouTube highlights, others are more sophisticated and come and watch a player play and follow him for some time before making a move.”

As MLS continues to spend more and build its own scouting systems, the league will have to make a big choice, spending $12 - $15 million on talents that the league can “steal” like Barco or recent signings Facundo Torres and Alan Velasco, or begin to go after the more cemented talents of top clubs in Latin America and start to pay in that $20-25 million range.

Then there is Taty Castellanos a firm example of what a connected scouting network can do for an MLS side. Castellanos came to NYCFC via Montevideo City Torque of Uruguay, one of the City Football Group’s sister clubs, the Argentine cost the Pigeons around $550,000. Today NYCFC is asking no less than $15 million for the MLS 2021 Golden Boot. If Castellanos were to be sold for a fee remotely close to that he would be not only one of the biggest success cases in MLS but the entire City Football Group.

In every league and every sport signings will hit or miss, in MLS missing a $12 million signing is the equivalent of Chelsea missing out on a $100 million player. MLS GMs will need to evolve their game plan and look for more Castellanos and take less risks with Brenner’s, but when they shell out the big cash that player better be ready to take command of a team like Torres seems to be doing at Orlando and Velasco has shown at FC Dallas.