Brandon Vazquez’s return to TQL Stadium adds to Champions Cup drama, but friendships will take a backseat for the match

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Brandon Vazquez’s introduction to FC Cincinnati was an understated one. After being left unprotected in the 2019 expansion draft by Atlanta United FC and then selected in the fourth round by Nashville SC, FCC acquired the young forward for a meager $150,000 in Allocation Money. At the time, Vazquez was a promising talent with three goals in 32 MLS appearances, but hardly the star he would become in Cincinnati.

But like many stories that follow the hero's journey, great things come from small beginnings. 

By the time Vazquez’s time at FC Cincinnati had come to an end, those great things came to pass. From struggling to break into the lineup with Atlanta to helping lead FC Cincinnati to the playoffs for the first time in 2022 and the Supporters’ Shield last season, all while becoming the club’s all-time leading scorer, Cincinnati witnessed Brandon Vazquez become the man he is today, and Brandon Vazquez became the man he is because of Cincinnati.

CF Monterrey and their supporters received him this offseason, after the club's high profile transfer for the striker. Rayados received a heralded star, an MLS All-Star and Best XI member.

Journalists and photographers mobbed Vazquez at the airport upon arriving in Monterrey for the first time. Fans quickly named him Superman after the classic DC Comics character and Vazquez’s signature pose after scoring a goal, posing with his fists on his hips like The Last Son of Krypton would. Rayados quickly took to supporting this alter ego as fans flooded Estadio BBVA with oversized framed glasses and red capes to fully capture the Kryptonians' look to support their new Superman.

Rayados supporters received Kal-El after he became The Man of Steel. Now, Clark comes home to Kent Farm for a reunion.

“Cincinnati has a special place in my heart,” Vazquez said in a goodbye video in January after his transfer was made official. “I’ll cherish the memories that I’ve had here forever.

“I’ve loved this club since day one. The best years of my career have been here…the best years of my life have been here. Having Cincinnati fans at my back the last four years have pushed me to be able to achieve what I’ve been able to do.”

When Vazquez left for CF Monterrey of Liga MX, this matchup was a possibility. The draw for the Concacaf Champions Cup had been set and both clubs were just a Round One victory away from meeting. Now the time has come, Rayados comes to TQL Stadium and brings their new star for the matchup.

“He’s a good friend of mine. In Cincinnati, in the soccer world, but also in life. We spent some good time together,” FCC defender Matt Miazga said of the prospect of seeing Vazquez on the pitch again. “I called him up and spoke on FaceTime. We chatted a bit and that was basically how we left off. …I just said “I’ll see you on the pitch.”

The novelty of such a quick return, for a player who many fans feel emotionally connected to for his contributions to the club's meteoric rise in the last few years, both on and off the pitch, is obviously exciting. And the relationship built in the locker room runs deep, but it’ll be all business once the teams hit the field and the first whistle goes.

“With him, I feel like I’ve made a lifelong friend. We spent a lot of time together. … In soccer it’s easy to make friends, but people come and go so quickly. So there's certain guys you make lifelong friends with and I think he's one of them for me, and I like to think the same with him,” Miazga adds.

“But on the field, we’re not going to be friends at all. I won’t talk to him before we get on to the pitch. … Before and during the game, I’ll be in my zone.”

To take on a club like Rayados (The Striped Ones) is to take on a giant of Mexico and one of the biggest clubs in the world. Five time winners of the top flight in Mexico and five time Concacaf Champions League winners (including three consecutively in 2011, 2012 and 2013) Monterrey also enters as the top rated club in Concacaf per the confederation’s club index.

“We get a top club in Liga MX. They've been a top club for quite some time, and obviously now with the addition of a former FC Cincinnati player with Brandon, it adds to a little bit of the excitement in the conversation around that game,” head coach Pat Noonan said after FCC secured a spot in the Round of 16 that formalized the matchup. “We know it's going to be a very difficult series … When we step on the field on (Thursday) at home, we know we need to start in a very strong way against a very dangerous opponent.

“It's great for our club to be now observed in more than just league play and our cup competitions domestically. We get to challenge ourselves against the best in the region and I think we're excited about the opportunity.” 

The Vazquez return is fun. But until the two leg matchup between the clubs is finished and one team moves on to the quarterfinals, it’s strictly business.