CINCINNATI – FC Cincinnati announced on Monday it had signed midfielder Nazmi Albadawi ahead of its debut season in Major League Soccer, making the 27-year-old the fourth leading player from the club’s 2018 USL Championship side to remain with the club as it moves to the top flight.
The club also announced Blake Smith had been signed to a MLS deal, signalling his return to the top flight after previously playing for the Montreal Impact for two seasons, as has forward Emery Welshman and defender Justin Hoyte.
Albadawi joined FC Cincinnati last January and made 27 appearances for the side as it claimed the 2018 USL Regular Season Championship. Albadawi was one of the key figures in the club’s attacking success as he recorded a single season-high 11 goals and added four assists.
“It’s always been my dream to play in MLS. I’ve had a few opportunities in the past, but they didn’t necessarily feel right at the time,” Albadawi said. “Now, I’m very grateful, very thankful to Cincinnati for giving me the opportunity. I feel very at home at this club and I couldn’t be happier to make the move with them.”
A former member of North Carolina FC, where he played four seasons before joining FC Cincinnati, Albadawi joins midfielders Corben Bone and Emmanuel Ledesma and defender Forrest Lasso in making to the move to MLS with the club.
The Raleigh, N.C., native proved to be one of FC Cincinnati’s greatest offensive threats in 2018. After missing the first five matches at the beginning of the season with an injury, he played in 27 of Cincinnati’s last 29 matches. Along with Emmanuel Ledesma (16), Corben Bone (11) and Danni König (11), Albadawi was one of FC Cincinnati’s four players to reach at least 10 goals on the season. He scored in four consecutive matches from June 13-30 during the beginning of FCC’s USL Championship record 23-match unbeaten run. He started each of FC Cincinnati’s two USL Cup Playoffs matches.
“Nazmi had a terrific season for us last year and we are thrilled to give him his first opportunity in MLS,” Koch said. “He is a player that has shown consistency every year of his professional career. He has very high expectations of himself, which is great, because we’ll be there to push him along the way and hopefully we’ll continue to see very positive performances from him.”
In his lone season with the Orange and Blue at the USL level, he made 30 appearances at left back, including 28 starts, scored one goal and added four assists.
“I’m very excited. It’s been a long journey to get back to MLS, but I have always had confidence in my abilities,” Smith said. “Fortunately, my move to Cincinnati has been a great experience thus far. The coaches believe in me enough to make the jump to the next level, so I’m very excited.”
Hoyte has spent the past two seasons with FC Cincinnati, making 47 appearances for the club while recording two goals and four assists. The 34-year-old was one of FCC's most consistent presences on the back line in that time, helping the side reach the Semifinals of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in addition to its success in the 2018 USL Championship season.
“I’m really, really excited. It’s been a long-term goal of mine to play in MLS,” Hoyte said. “I’m excited to make the move with Cincinnati after two great years with the organization. It’s exciting times ahead for the club and for me.”
Smith was a fixture on the FC Cincinnati backline in 2018, featuring in every game in which he was available. He scored FCC’s first goal of the season, the game-winning goal at the Charleston Battery on March 17. The Boerne, Texas, native ranked first among all FCC defenders with four assists on the year.
“I think Blake really showed his character with us last year,” said Koch. “There were a number of times when other players were fighting for his position and he never gave that position up. We saw tremendous growth in Blake’s influence on the team as the season went along. I’m incredibly proud to take him along on this journey with us.”
Welshman made 26 appearances, including 14 starts, scored four goals and added four assists in the past season for Cincinnati. The Guyana international has made 50 appearances overall in his USL Championship career, which included a previous stop with Real Monarchs SLC, and has scored 10 goals and six assists overall in the league.
“This is a huge opportunity for me to move forward with a club that has ambition,” said Welshman. “When I signed with the club last year, I knew where they were heading, and I was excited to be part of that team. Now, to be part of an inaugural MLS squad, I’m very blessed. It’s very humbling. It’s a huge blessing for me and for my family and I’m very grateful.”