Right back Bryan Reynolds' rise in Belgium sparks return to USMNT

The current international window has been useful for Anthony Hudson. Not only has the interim U.S. head coach and his staff been able to call in many of the recent World Cup veterans to get them back together, he has also been able to look at some promising young players who are likely to have a future with the team in the coming years.

Bryan Reynolds, 21, made his return to the U.S. team on Friday in the 7-1 win over Grenada. The Dallas native played the full 90 at right back. While most of the attack was geared toward the left side with Christian Pulisic at the heart of most of the team’s top chances, Reynolds played well when pressed. His previous two U.S. appearances came in 2021 friendlies.

But the expectations are high for Reynolds as he is in the middle of a true breakout season at Westerlo, a newly promoted team in Belgium’s First Division A. That team has been overachieving and currently sits sixth in the top tier. Reynolds has been a big reason for that success, having made 22 starts while a key player on both sides of the ball.

“It's not easy for these younger players to go overseas in different parts of Europe, different parts of the world, and integrate first into the culture and into a new team and then to perform,” Hudson said prior to camp. “Some get left out, they have to move to another club, they go on loan. … One thing we've been really impressed with Bryan is we're seeing someone who is growing in confidence. His team is doing well and he's a significant part of the reason why they're doing well.”

But it has been a process for Reynolds to get to this point. In 2020, shortly after MLS resumed play from a Covid shutdown, Reynolds made the transition to right back for FC Dallas shortly after the club sold Reggie Cannon to Boavista. Until that point, Reynolds had only seen limited action playing on the wings. But while he was still raw, he showed a lot of promise as a right back and withing a few months, Roma and Juventus were in a bidding war. In January, Roma eventually won out.
In his first year at Roma, Reynolds saw limited minutes. When Jose Mourinho was hired as the coach in 2021, it was tough for Reynolds, given the Portuguese coach’s reluctance to play and develop young players. Last season, Reynolds joined Kortrijk in Belgium for the second half of the Belgian season. He played well on occasion, but it was a tough environment to stand out as the club struggled immensely in the final months of the season.

Instead of returning to Italy, Reynolds remained in Belgium, joining Westerlo. It was in these first eight months of the season where Reynolds finally showed signs of realizing the potential he showed in 2020 when two of Italy’s biggest teams were after him.

“The last two years have just been like — was he just a one-hit wonder? Is he really a good player?” Reynolds told Soccer America.  “You just kind of have to block out the outside noise and just believe in yourself. I know that I'm a good player and I have all this potential. ... That's the biggest thing and having a strong mentality and always believing in yourself and knowing it will all work out in the end.”

Reynolds arrived in U.S. camp riding a wave of momentum. Westerlo has won four of its last five games and in the past two weeks, Reynolds has particularly stood out. On March 11, he was one of the best players on the field in a 3-1 win over Kortrijk. On March 18, he picked up a big assist in another impressive effort in a 2-1 away win over Oostende.

But for Reynolds, the big part of his growth has been on the defensive side of the game – winning duels, tackles, not letting attackers get past him, forcing turnovers. Westerlo coach Jonas De Roeck has made a big effort helping Reynolds develop this area of his game.
“It’s the repetitions of being in all these situations, week in and week out,” Reynolds said of his development at Westerlo. “When you know you're going to play on the weekend and you're playing 20 games in a row now, it's just time on the pitch. The coach here really believes in me, and he gives me the confidence — like go for it, but I want you to be the best defender today. That's what I focused on and, when you think about it, it's all about positioning. I feel like I'm fast enough and I have the physical ability to make up for, like certain positions, mistakes, but it's all positioning and just being more aggressive.”

Hudson and his staff have heavily scouted Reynolds in recent weeks, including trips to Belgium to attend his games (including a recent loss to Standard Liege). In addition to watching on film, Hudson is particularly impressed with the confidence of Reynolds, noting his impact in games and how effectively he is getting forward into the attack.

The fact that he is playing regular minutes on a team that is overachieving is fast-tracking his development.

“What we're seeing from him, which we really like is him going forward, he's a threat,” Hudson said. “Every game we watch, you're looking at it thinking opposing teams now have to really scout this guy and figure out how to defend against him. ... He's attack-minded. He is powerful when he runs forward. We see a lot. He gets the ball, he plays the ball forward and then he runs forward and he can go inside, outside, and he likes getting in the box. He has good physicality and he has good quality. He's been doing really well.”

What is clear now is that his development over the current season has set Reynolds up for even bigger opportunities in the year ahead – on multiple levels.
At the club level, this summer will be telling. His loan will expire at the end of the season, and Reynolds wants to be in a place where he will play – whether remaining at Westerlo, returning to Roma, or moving to a new club. Roma could be an option but there is also an increasingly high chance he either goes on loan again (with an option to buy) or is sold again.

“You always want to play for the team that invested all this money in you,” Reynolds said of his future. “If I stay here, I'd just be developing more and more. If I go back to Roma, of course, I just want to focus on continuing to play because once I start playing, like that's when I show my real qualities. Once I have that confidence, I don't want to get back into a situation where I'm just getting rotated in or I'm not playing.
“I know I have the quality to play there but some things you can't control,” Reynolds said. “You have to get games to get better and to fit into that league. And to play once every five games for 20 minutes, I don't think that's really going to do me any good. I think the main thing is just me finding a situation where I continue to play and develop.”

As far the national team, this camp highlights the depths of the right back position. Sergino Dest (age 22) and Joe Scally (20) are also in in camp and both are young players as well. Veteran DeAndre Yedlin (29) likely also remains in the picture and Cannon aims to reemerge as well.

Reynolds is also a strong candidate for the U-23 Olympic team next year in Paris – saying about the tournament: “If the opportunity comes, I am more than willing to take it.”

For now, the current camp is a welcome return for Reynolds and another sign he is on the expected path with the high ceiling he showed when he first burst onto the scene at FC Dallas.
“It's more just getting back into the group and feeling like I want to be a part of this team and I want to be with this team in the future,” Reynolds said.

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