Luchi Gonzalez: Bryan Reynolds transfer interest reinforces need to invest in youth

Bryan Reynolds - FC Dallas - cropped shot

Even by the frothy standards of transfer-window reporting, the numbers are startling. The headlines, too.

The bidding is said to have begun at $4 million, then quickly climbed into the $6 million range, then $7 million, all the way up to a head-turning $9.2 million bid reportedly tabled by AS Roma two weeks ago.

Bryan Reynolds is suddenly the subject of a breathless race among several European clubs. FC Dallas’ teenage right back has earned the keen attention of Roma, Juventus, Fiorentina and Club Brugge, among others. At some point next month, it seems, the 19-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas will fetch a transfer fee approaching eight figures, the kind of price tag once rarely associated with any US-reared player, much less one with a modest 15 league starts to his name so far.

That’s not inflation, says his coach. That’s good business for all parties.

“You talk about surprise at maybe the amount of the transfer, I mean, those are still good deals,” FCD head coach Luchi Gonzalez told MLSsoccer.com in a wide-ranging one-on-one last week. “It's almost a steal, too, because the young player just needs to play well wherever he goes and the [buying] club can triple that, quadruple that, if their use of the player is smart and they create an even higher market and value for the player. So it's all business.

“I'm proud of it more than being skeptical of it.”

Luchi Gonzalez: Bryan Reynolds transfer interest reinforces need to invest in youth - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/USATSI_15158113%20(1).jpg?UkRAshtNvlz9DnBPmGmlwm_96ae.KHp_

After a breakout 2020 season, Bryan Reynolds is the latest FC Dallas Homegrown product to find himself on the radar of overseas clubs. | USA Today Sports

Though it won’t threaten the MLS-record outbound transfer record held by ex-Vancouver Whitecaps star Alphonso Davies, which climbed well past $20 million with various add-ons as the Canadian excels at Bayern Munich, a fee anywhere near what’s being reported on Reynolds would represent another high-water mark for Homegrown talent, given his limited first-team minutes.

“I would say some of his best performances are on par with any top right back in the league. And he's still learning,” said Gonzalez of Reynolds, also a pupil of his during three years in charge of FCD's fertile academy from 2016-18. “He's still young. 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 [birth year].

“So markets can evaluate his performance and then match it with his age. And because he's really young, similar to [Philadelphia’s Brenden] Aaronson, it’ll have a higher price tag and higher interest. European clubs are looking more and more in our market for players.”

A vaunted prospect since middle-school age, Reynolds signed his first Homegrown contract in 2016 but didn’t get an extended run as an MLS starter until Reggie Cannon was sold to Portuguese side Boavista FC earlier this year.

The US youth international then made a seamless midseason transition during what Gonzalez calls “a breakout year,” even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. With long-range investment in their sprawling youth system now reaping long-awaited rewards, FCD and MLS alike have made it clear that they’re open for this kind of business.

“The younger a player can show consistent minutes – Bryan has shown he was clearly our starter second half of the season, as an ‘01 – that creates that value and that attention or that hype,” Gonzalez said. “That's fantastic, and our league needs that, our young players need that, our owners need that.”

With the likes of Davies, Weston McKennie (another FCD academy product) and Christian Pulisic starring on the sport’s biggest stages, the Old World is turning its attention to the North American market like never before. The compressed schedules and tighter budgets imposed by the coronavirus may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise, not only for the “Play Your Kids” movement but also the wider goal of pushing MLS forward with higher-grade imports and exports alike.

“We're still young in this. We're still just getting started in creating a valuable international market with the American player. You see that in Weston and Pulisic now, who have high, high, world-class values on the international market, who never played a minute for an MLS club,” noted Gonzalez.

“This pandemic hurt every owner financially, and not just MLS but every sports league in the world,” he added. “This is a moment to double down on the youth. Because international players are very expensive and we need to continue to believe in our young players and creating environments and pathways for them to impact the first team. So this has been the philosophy since the day I've been in the club … my conviction is, continue to believe in the young player, for performance of the first team to win an MLS Cup, or a transfer that's great for the player, great for the club, so we can reinvest and get better and better.”