BRIDGEVIEW — There was certainly something different about the Chicago Fire Tuesday night. On the surface, there was the opponent in Mexican powerhouses Cruz Azul. Then there was the decision by coach Veljko Paunovic to use a heavily rotated roster.
However, what was most evident once the whistle blew in the inaugural Leagues Cup match was the energy and intensity the Fire starters brought to the game.
They collectively seemed keenly aware of how important an opportunity this was, not just for the Fire to show what they had against Liga MX competition, but for each of them to stake a claim for more minutes in the future. While the 2-0 defeat meant the Fire won’t progress in the Leagues Cup, there’s hope the performance can be built on over the next several matches.
“All the players who didn’t have many minutes in the season did really well,” said Bastian Schweinsteiger, who entered as a 58th-minute substitute. “If we fight for each other in the next league games the same like today, we will win our games.”
The match was also a chance for 18-year-old defender Andre Reynolds II to make his Fire debut. A recent graduate of Jones College Prep in downtown Chicago, he became the first Fire academy graduate from the city to play for the club.
It’s no small thing to make you debut against one of the best club teams in North America, but Reynolds, who on Wednesday was named to the 2019 MLS Homegrown Game presented by Energizer®, didn’t feel like the moment was too big for him.
“Of course I had nerves at first, [the] first time being out there”, he said. “But once the whistle blew I knew I had 10 guys behind me that were going to support me, and at the end of the day it’s just two teams playing soccer. So if you go in with that mindset it’s going to make it a lot easier.”
If he and his inexperienced counterparts were trying not to think about who they were facing, those on the sidelines were certainly taking note. Cruz Azul’s lineup featured nine players who have competed for their national teams, including four for Mexico, and will be one of the favorites in the Liga MX Apertura season.
“I think it’s great, if you see of example [Reynolds] and other players as well, I must say they did really well against those kind of guys,” said Schweinsteiger. “I think it was a good opportunity for them to show up and they did. That’s great to see.”
Aside from being on the receiving end of a brilliant flick from Roberto Alvarado that the Cruz Azul midfielder volleyed home for the opening goal, Reynolds was composed, defensively strong and eager to push forward on counter attacks. He sounded satisfied with his performance and felt he and his teammates had taken full advantage of this chance.
“It doesn’t matter the name (of the team), it’s all about what you put in as a team,” Reynolds said. “We went in with the mentality that we’re going to leave everything out on the field and that’s what we did.”