“Oh, he's buying lunch, for sure.”
In a conference room at the Fire’s office in downtown Chicago, a debate between the Reynolds brothers has begun.
“Nah, big brother has to take care of me still.”
Justin, 18, is grinning. He's still coming down from what was surely one of the most important moments of his young life. In a formal ceremony, surrounded by family members and Fire staff, he signed his first professional contract just minutes prior.
Andre, 21, is seated next to him. He’s positively radiating pride. Heaps of praise for Justin - his work ethic, his abilities, his potential - have shaped his part of the conversation so far. There’s also the realization that, because of all of those things, Justin has earned a paycheck of his own.
“I’m not paying for nothing,” the elder Reynolds laughed. “I’ve been driving him to practice for, how many years? Now, you know, we need a little bit of reimbursement.”
Andre is kidding of course, but the back-and-forth is telling of how the pair arrived at this moment together. Justin’s journey through the Fire’s youth ranks and up to the first team is just as equally Andre’s, and vice versa.
“I’m not gonna lie, I'm kind of at a loss for words,” Andre said. “I've seen how much he's progressed since joining the Fire back when he was, what, 10 or 11 years old? And everyday, he's just like, 'I want to go pro, I want to go pro, I want to be a professional soccer player.’ As a brother and seeing him reach his goal, it's a dream come true.”
Family is at the center of the Reynolds’ story. Their parents - mom, Charlene, a principal in the Chicago Public School system and dad, Andre, a Senior Vice President at Chicago’s Federal Reserve Bank - and their grandparents were alongside the boys at every step along the way.
When the brothers joined the Fire Academy at similar times in 2014-15 - Justin as a 10 year old and Andre at 14 - dad generally shouldered the role of getting them to-and-from training sessions, while mom made sure to keep them mentally sharp. On days when their parents were unable to take the boys themselves, in stepped grandma and grandpa.
“We'll be here forever if I tried to explain everything that they did for us,” Justin said. “Our mom has been a rock, making sure we're on point and we're doing everything right, getting on me about being the best I can. Then, our dad, he's coming, going to work, coming to school, picking us up, going to training, going home, finishing work, and then going to bed.”
“For years,” Andre added.
“Our grandparents have always been there to support us, uncles, cousins, family friends - it's a collaborative effort. None of it would have been even close to possible without them. And they've they've had our back the entire way.”
And, of course, the boys sharpened one another as they progressed through the ranks of the Fire Academy. Andre appeared 89 times for the Fire at the youth level before signing his professional contract as a 17-year-old in January of 2019, becoming the 12th Homegrown signing in Fire history.
Seeing Andre’s work in the Academy pay off with a first team signature helped Justin realize that his own professional dreams were right there within reach.
“I think that put me a step ahead of others, because they didn't get that same experience of, like, a professional player in their house,” Justin said. “Despite him being a pro, he's also my brother, so he would help me. If we do training by ourselves, he would show me the level I have to play at. If I'm like messing around, or if I'm messing up easy passes, that's not going to get you to where you want to be. That helped a lot.”
While Andre was with the first team, Justin was establishing himself as a key contributor in each age group. His efforts earned him inclusion on the Chicago Fire II roster, where he’s appeared in MLS Next Pro four times so far in the team’s inaugural season.
“As soon as I signed, it clicked even more,” Andre said. “He started working harder, started taking care of his body, started taking care of his diet. So I've really seen firsthand how hard he's worked for this and how badly he wants it.”
“If you see now where he is versus where he was even two years ago, it's actually remarkable,” he added. “If he continues on this way, the sky is the limit.”
The pair are now the fifth set of brothers to sign for the Fire, following in the footsteps of DaMarcus and Jamar Beasley, Jim and Jeff Curtin, Victor and Mauricio Pineda, and Nick and Gabriel Slonina. Unsurprisingly, the pair aren’t letting the idea of being teammates at the first team level effect their dynamic.
“We've been pretty much best friends from...God knows when,” Andre said. “At this point it's just, obviously, we're both becoming our own men. And, you know, with that comes change. But I don't think the level that we play soccer at will affect our relationship. We're already inseparable. We trust each other, and we work well off of each other. We spend time together, enjoy our time together, so I don't think it'll really change much.”
With Tuesday’s latest career milestone behind him, the immediate challenge for the younger Reynolds is to make even more of an impact over the remainder of the MLS Next Pro season prior to joining the first team in 2023. Andre - who has three Chicago Fire II appearances to go along with his three first team appearances this season - will be close by.
It’s as wholesome as it sounds. Mostly.
“Now I get to test myself and see if I can beat him up, you know?” Justin laughed. “But, like he said - this whole interview explained it - he's like my best friend. That's my guy.”