SSFC Spotlight: Bryan Reynolds bounces back while in Belgium

Adjusting to Europe can be a slow process, with some players failing to immediately adapt and become instant contributors. Despite his massive potential, Bryan Reynolds struggled to break into the rotation at AS Roma, a challenge exacerbated by the unexpected hiring of a notoriously mercurial manager. Needing a boost, the 20-year-old defender enjoyed a successful loan with KV Kortrijk in Belgium, a brief spell that may have set him back on the right track.

Reynolds was born in Fort Worth, Texas, playing at the local YMCA and with North Texas Soccer. At the age of four, his parents had him choose Between baseball, basketball, soccer, and football, a decision they insist was not meant to be set in stone. He joined the vaunted FC Dallas Academy at 11, progressing through the ranks as an attacker while competing at the Dallas Cup and winning the US Development Academy Championship. In November of 2016, the club signed the-then-15-year-old as its youngest ever Homegrown, despite his recent addition to the U-17 US Residency Program in Bradenton, Florida.

He grew up attending the team’s training sessions with his father, Keith, a relatively well-known Dallas-area talent who played at Southern Methodist University. “It’s really exciting being a 15-year-old signing his first pro contract, but I have to stay humble,” Reynolds told FCDallas.com. “I can’t let this go to my head and I have to keep playing how I have been.”

The first two years of his professional career passed without any playing time, a patient development process that included training sessions at Bayern Munich. In light of tactical styles changing and different formations growing in popularity around the world, there was a decision to test his abilities as a fullback. In 2019, he made his breakthrough, splitting between FC Dallas and North Texas SC, the club’s reserve team in USL League One. Reynolds had 24 appearances across all competitions, contributing one goal and four assists. With his play at right back, North Texas won the regular season and playoff championships.

For 2020, he was firmly established with the first-team, being named the club’s Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year. After starting right back Reggie Cannon left Major League Soccer for Primeira Liga club Boavista, Reynolds spent two matches as a substitute before earning a starting role and not surrendering it for the rest of his tenure. Much of his success at fullback is attributed to the influence of the departing teammate.

“He had a great mentor in Reggie,” said then-FC Dallas manager and current USMNT assistant Luchi Gonzalez. “He’s always been close with him and looking up to him. That’s why I’m not surprised he’s been able to step in and compete right away.”

Although a four-year contract extension was signed in October 2020, his remaining time in MLS would be brief. The transfer to Europe was a months-long saga, with breathless reporting of constantly altering details emanating from both sides of the Atlantic. The tug-of-war between Juventus and Roma would not stop, as the reported fee climbed higher. There was also rumored interest from Club Brugge, Marseille, Lyon, Fiorentina, a who’s who of clubs attempting to acquire the highly rated prospect. Eventually, the deal was done, and Reynolds joined the Giallorossi on a six-month loan ahead of a mandatory purchase. Dallas received “an initial fee” of 6.75 million euros with additional clauses worth up to 5.65 million euros.

“I am excited and humbled to join AS Roma,” said Reynolds, whose contract lasts through June of 2025. “After speaking to the club, I quickly realized that this is the ideal place for me to improve and develop as a footballer. My challenge now is to keep improving day after day.”

Reynolds has taken some time to adapt to his new environment, making his debut against Parma and ending the year with a promising five appearances, the youngest American to start in Serie A. There was optimism heading into the next season, as he was expected to take on a bigger role at the club. Unfortunately, Roma made a hiring decision that strikes despair into the hearts of young players: hiring José Mourinho to the manager role.

As feared, Reynolds made a mere three appearances for Roma, including his only start during a widely-publicized 6-1 loss to Bodø/Glimt in the Europa Conference League, a group performance that drew criticism from Mourinho. Despite insisting the manager is a “nice person” and praising his motivational tactics, there was a need to seek playing time elsewhere. Interest poured in from across Europeincluding Club Brugge, Hull City, and Anderlecht.

Reynolds ultimately signed for Kortrijk in the Belgian First Division A through the end of the season, with the club failing to secure him for the desired 18 months. After barely playing for a year, he enjoyed living in a city with fewer distractions that allowed him to focus on his career, maintaining “confidence” and “the pace of the game.” The defender made nine appearances and scored a goal in the final match of the season, with De Kerels (The Guys) losing eight of the fixtures during a schedule that ended in early April.

“Obviously, the most important thing is to play, and I think playing games is the best way for development,” Reynolds told American Soccer Now. “And that’s what I’m doing. Even though I’m on loan, I still want to win games. It’s been a bit tough for the team… [Belgium] is a different league and there’s a different style of play and you have to get used to it, but I feel like I adjusted pretty well.”

Now Reynolds returns to Roma, with an uncertain future ahead. He hopes to impress Mourinho by showing his ability to “actually play.” While his stated belief is admirable, observers are speculating that there will be a move to a new club, likely a loan to aid his development process.

At the international level, Reynolds was identified by US Soccer at an early age, ascending through the various youth national teams. He was on the bench for the majority of the 2017 U-17 World Cup, only making a brief cameo in the 4-1 quarterfinal loss to England. His senior debut came in a friendly against Northern Ireland, followed by a substitute appearance against Bosnia and Herzegovina last December. Manager Gregg Berhalter complimented his dynamic “offensive characteristics” but stressed the need to “improve in the defensive phase,” believing that Serie A “is like a university for defenders” that will allow him to become “a complete player.”

While there is the need for development, the national team could benefit from his raw talent in the future. The most readily apparent aspect of Reynolds is his combination of height and athleticism, enabling all the inherent defensive benefits of shielding, tackling, intercepting, and aerial duels. Standing 6’3”, his technical ability and good first touch makes him a nightmare to stop as both a passer and dribbler. His speed is frequently noted in scouting reports, appearing to “glide” around the field with his long strides but capable of short bursts. This quickness is useful in short range possession and combinations with teammates. Total Football Analysis considers him a “key component in the buildup and creation in the final third,” tasked with pushing forward to “create overloads in wide areas” of the field.

Touted as a player with a “massive ceiling,” His potential emergence would make good on years of promise and potential supported by a friendly club environment in Dallas. Reynolds’ background As an attacker is an asset, lending to diagonal runs behind the opposing back lines. Smarter Scout lists him as having “outstanding ball retention” when compared to other fullbacks in Serie A. He’s also an excellent crosser, with Dallas teammates describing him as “one of the best.”

“He’s still young,” said Luchi Gonzalez in 2021. “He’s still understanding the game tactically, his defensive positioning and his responsibilities without the ball and ball recovery. But certainly with the ball, I think he’s as good as it gets in MLS and he’s still only a 2001. Bryan has shown he was clearly our starter [in the] second half of the season… That creates that value and that attention or that hype.”

Reynolds is still at the beginning of his career, with a mere 51 career appearances at the club level. While the transfer to Roma wasn’t an immediate success, he has plenty of time to develop and grow into a top fullback, in Italy or elsewhere. In a few years, his loan to Belgian could be viewed as a crucial move, a welcome boost of playing time and experience on the road to stardom.