When Nazmi Albadawi signed with FC Cincinnati before the 2018 USL season, he wanted to join a club that seemed primed for MLS.
Considering Albadawi was already dubbed “possibly the best American talent in the U.S. lower divisions,” he seemed primed for MLS, too.
He had his first taste of it Saturday night.
Albadawi made his league debut in Cincinnati’s 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls at Nippert Stadium. The center midfielder entered the match in the 81st minute as a substitute for Victor Ulloa.
“I’ve been wanting to play in MLS for a long time, and now I can say I officially made my debut,” Albadawi said after the match. “I’m very grateful for this club and these fans. Hopefully we can build from here.”
In his nine-minute appearance, he made 10 touches, completed six passes, won two tackles and a foul. He considered it an “OK” performance. It’s worth noting he entered the match a minute removed from New York’s opening goal, which came against the run of play.
Tossed into a difficult situation, Albadawi tried to leave an influential impression.
“The game is always difficult when you come in as a sub,” he said. “I definitely could’ve done better, but it’s about getting your touches and getting the rhythm back. It’s the first game I’ve played since October last year when we played against Red Bulls II, so it’s been awhile since I’ve played a real, meaningful game
“It felt great to be out there and I was happy and grateful and blessed to get that opportunity.”
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The 27-year-old’s reference to the Red Bulls II match was Cincinnati’s final match in the USL. While Albadawi was with the team in 2018, he made 27 appearances, which included 24 starts. He also had a career-high 11 goals and four assists.
Following the season, he re-signed with the Orange and Blue in December. Soon after, he joined the Palestine National Team for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Momentum was building.
But that didn’t translate into MLS minutes until Saturday night.
Before the loss to New York, he’d only been named to the bench twice, including last week’s game at Orlando City SC.
“I felt like I was getting closer over the last couple games,” Albadawi said. “I felt like it was going to come sometime soon. I’m very fortunate that it did.”
Now that it has, the priority is how the mid plays into Interim Head Coach Yoann Damet’s plans regularly.
In 2018, he showed his quality as an attacking midfielder. In his MLS debut, his role was deeper as a box-to box midfielder. That versatility should help.
“No matter what I do, whether it’s offensive or defensive work, as long as the team gets a result, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “For me, that’s all I wanted to do, to come in and help the team in any way that I could. Unfortunately, today we weren’t able to get that goal to tie it up.”