When Yuya Kubo joined FC Cincinnati, it was the hopeful start of a new generation of Orange and Blue soccer after a disappointing first season of MLS play. A new star midfielder with experience in some of Europe's top leagues, Kubo was one of several key additions that brought excitement to Cincy ahead of the 2020 campaign.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned from there. The 2020 season was derailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the club made some progress in the MLS is Back tournament, when play resumed, FCC found themselves at the bottom of the table again.
But the seeds of success were sown in that period of time. Kubo, now the third longest tenured member of The Orange and Blue, led the team in scoring in 2020 and was joined by Brandon Vazquez and Álvaro Barreal for that campaign. Today, Kubo plays a new, but vital, role for FC Cincinnati and has been essential to the club's historic season that includes winning the Supporters’ Shield.
“I think he brings a change of speed that helps us on (both) sides of the ball,” Pat Noonan, FC Cincinnati head coach, said of Kubo’s contributions after a playoff win at Red Bull Arena on November 4. “He was excellent in his minutes and defensively too. … He's different in how he can break pressure.”
Kubo has excelled in his role as super sub, consistently creating big moments late in games with his dynamic skill and veteran presence.. Big moments like a worldy goal against Inter Miami CF in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal, where he was able to create space and put on a curling shot from distance to equal the score late in stoppage time.
While Kubo brings a quality to pitch that otherwise could be a starter for many other MLS clubs, part of what has made FC Cincinnati dangerous across multiple competitions this season has been the depth of talent that players like Kubo bring to not only a club, but an individual game. To have a player, a secret weapon almost, available at your disposal who has scored goals in the Champions League and Europa League is a unique asset to have.
“I believe in myself and know that I have the confidence to do what I can to help the club,” Kubo told FCCincinnati.com.
Across all attacking players on FCC, Kubo has created the most offensive opportunities for his teams on a per minute basis. With 13 attacking assists, three assists and two goals on the year, his offensive contributions when measured against his 1068 MLS minutes have been essential to the success of the club in 2023.
Kubo’s change in role has helped activate the best parts of his game. As an attacking midfielder with seemingly endless versatility across positions, Kubo can slide into any role in a pinch and provide a high quality sub or replacement for a start.
“Actions speak louder than words and that's what you see from Yuya,” defender and long time MLS veteran Ray Gaddis said. “Whatever is asked of him, he exemplifies and goes above and beyond for this group.
“(Kubo) leads by example. He comes in every day and works his butt off, and I think that rubs off on the rest of the team, no matter how old or experienced they are.”
The Japanese forward has appeared in every FC Cincinnati match he has been rostered for since August 13, 2022. When he made the jump to MLS, coming over from Belgian Pro League side K.A.A. Gent after three seasons there and Swiss Super League side BSC Young Boys before that for three seasons, he was the first Japanese Designated Player in MLS history. He remains one of just four Japanese players in the league, and is the longest tenured among them further securing his revolutionary status as an international player in MLS.
“Everything that you want in a leader, that's what Yuya continues to show,” Gaddis added. “He's just a calm person.
“I think that teams need poise. They need calmness, as well as intensity. And I think that he's a perfect balance for his team.”
While he no longer occupies the DP slot, Kubo has not lost the skill that an elite level player plays with and now does so with a vastly improved roster around him.
“I still see him as that,” Gaddis said of Kubo’s premier status in the league. “He's showed up in big moments and made big gains for us, and he's a game changer.”
Off the pitch, Kubo is quiet, but well known for his quick sense of humor. Teammates rave about his genuine compassion for the lives of others and willingness to lend a hand when needed.
As a father himself, Kubo is known to lend out pieces of advice to new parents at the club, player and staff alike, while also sympathizing with the struggles new parenthood brings. As a family man, the Kubo clan have become a staple at TQL Stadium. He once told the Cincinnati Enquirer: “When I get back home and I see my son, that’s my favorite time. If I wake up and see my son’s face, then I will be happy every day.”
Growth has been an obvious theme at FC Cincinnati since Kubo’s arrival. The organization has grown around him and Kubo has grown with it.
His role has changed, his quality has developed with it, and now Yuya Kubo is a vital member of a club that has already won the Supporters’ Shield and now eyes the ultimate prize in MLS.