It’s the easiest answer of the interview.
“My top moment would have to be my debut.”
18-year-old Andre Reynolds II, the Homegrown defender from Chicago proper, flashes a smile.
“It was pretty big for me and my family. It was something that I’ve been looking forward to pretty much my whole life, to be able to step on the field. The environment was great. Tons of fans, packed stadium, tough opponent. It was a dream come true. It was everything I could have hoped for and more.”
Signed out of the Chicago Fire Academy in January, Reynolds took the field for the first time as a professional on July 23 when the Chicago Fire hosted Cruz Azul in the inaugural match of the 2019 Leagues Cup.
In a 58-minute performance, the rookie showed he belonged on the field against the Liga MX side, even as the Fire ultimately conceded a 2-0 defeat. Recalling his first year in Major League Soccer, it’s the personal highlight of a season that -- through peaks and valleys -- began shaping the teenager’s approach to the professional game. Those first minutes hadn’t come easy.
At the time of his signing on Jan. 25, Reynolds was rehabbing from a hamstring injury picked up while participating in a domestic training camp with the U.S. Under-19 Men’s National Team. For the majority of the Club’s 2019 preseason, Reynolds was forced to watch his new teammates prepare for their upcoming campaign between endless laps around training pitches in Madrid, Spain and Charleston, South Carolina.
“It was tough,” he said. “After I signed, I was thinking, ‘I’m out of national team camp. I’m going to go straight from there into preseason. I’m going to be ready to try to make an impact and prove myself.’ It was a pretty big setback, and it kind of changed the course of what I expected of myself.”
“It was a lot to get through, but my team helped me through it, helped me understand that this is something that happens to almost every player and it’s a normal thing.”
Through working with Reade Whitney, the Club’s Director of Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer, Reynolds gained a greater appreciation of the focus required to keep one’s body performing at the level required in the professional ranks.
“Being able to learn from that experience is the biggest thing I’ve taken away,” he said. “It’s something I haven’t dealt with before. Obviously nobody wants to be injured, and it takes a lot to be able to consistently play at this level and stay healthy.”
The chance to suit up for his hometown Club finally came in late July, and -- after four years spent playing in the Fire Academy and half a season spent waiting to take the next step -- the weight of the moment was not lost.
Even though the Club's form stumbled at times through a jam-packed summer match calendar, the team banded together over the final third of the season -- a spike in performance and confidence Reynolds believes will serve the Fire well heading into 2020.
"There was a period where we were struggling and everyone was telling me, ‘Your team’s not going to make the playoffs,’" Reynolds said. "Then, we had three or four weeks where we were performing really well in training and the intensity in training increased, and everybody was that much more focused. It was something nobody expected. Everybody doubted us. Everybody counted us out, and we ended up being in a position where we were able to fight until the very end."
"Obviously, it didn’t pan out the way we expected, but to have gotten ourselves where we ended up was a huge accomplishment."
The Fire would rise to eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings by season's end, but ultimately finished three points outside of the MLS Cup Playoffs. With adversity a whetstone throughout Reynolds' debut season, he's now focused fully on attacking year two.
"The speed of play is a lot faster, so I’m still trying to figure out how to make my decisions earlier and be more relaxed on the ball and free like the way I was in the Academy," he said. "I’m watching film, seeing where options are in the game, and things I could be doing better with positioning or decision-making.
"I was talking to BB (midfielder Brandt Bronico) and he was telling me something along the lines of just keeping your head down every day and going at it," Reynolds added. "He’s the biggest grinder on the team. He’s always working. He’s always coming to practice early. He drilled that into me, especially later in the season. Now that the season’s over, it’s really starting to become a habit -- just grinding and doing everything that I can to be a professional."
The Fire's return to Soldier Field in 2020 offers the South Loop native a unique opportunity to represent his childhood Club during one of its most transformative periods, just steps from the neighborhood that raised him.
"I’m super hyped," he said. "I’ve talked to so many people about coming out to games and coming to see us play. It’s right off the red line, so everybody in the city is going to be able to get to the game. Being able to be back playing in the city I’m from, it’s huge."
As Reynolds now searches for the next big moment of his young career, he's got a message for Chicago and its people.
"It’s our city. Chicago has so much pride in what we are and where we’ve come over the years, and sports are a huge part of the city’s culture. Come represent. Come show your voice. We’re Chicago. We’re the best city in the world, and we’ve got to show it."