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Reggie Cannon: From Zero to Hero

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Cannon’s 2018 has been an impressive run for the former UCLA defender.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

2017 was not a fruitful debut professional season for Reggie Cannon. Playing just a single minute in Major League Soccer was probably not the full-back’s preferred way to follow up a year in which he played every match for UCLA - the University of California, Los Angeles - as a freshman. A demoralizing loan spell with USL franchise OKC Energy FC, that produced zero minutes of action for Cannon, only further added insult to injury that year.

“It felt like no one really believed in me at the time, not even the coaching staff,” Cannon told MLSsoccer.com, as he reflected on the struggles of a disastrous 2017.

In truth, 2017 was a dumpster fire season for the entire FC Dallas franchise: Oscar Pareja’s men faced one of the worst mid-season meltdowns in MLS history as they failed to qualify for the MLS Playoffs for the first time since 2013. The veteran players acquired during pre-season failed to provide any beneficial impact on the squad, and the lack of youth integration that year meant there were no youth players ready to make the step up in a time of crisis.

This catastrophic failure forced Pareja and the Dallas franchise to take a step back and re-evaluate their game plan going into 2018. Pieces that no longer clicked with Pareja’s system were moved on, and the organization shifted its focus back to giving its young players minutes whenever possible. For Cannon, everything changed the second both Hernan Grana and Atiba Harris were released from their contracts.

“Keep going and keep pushing, push for that starting spot, you can do it,” the 20-year old recalled Pareja telling him at the end of last year. It was all the motivation Cannon needed to surpass a year of setbacks and get back on track to claiming a position with the first team.

31 consecutive league starts and over 3,000 minutes later, Cannon leads the Dallas squad in minutes played in 2018 and is in the conversation for best right-back across MLS. He seamlessly solidified his position as Dallas’ number one right-back with fairly decent performances in the opening six matches of the season.

As expected, Cannon had nervy moments during his full MLS debut against Real Salt Lake. It did not take long for the youngster to learn how difficult it is to keep Joao Plata quiet for an entire match. As RSL marauded forward on the counter, Cannon lost track of Plata and allowed the Ecuadorian to latch onto a cutting through ball before dispatching the match’s opening goal. It was a play that exposed his lack of experience with the pace of senior club football.

Aside from the growing pains, Cannon stuck to his defensive responsibilities well and looked confident contributing on the offensive front. His chemistry with Michael Barrios on the right flank was surprisingly strong given the lack of time they had spent playing together.

During pre-season, however, Cannon noted that playing with Barrios was the most challenging aspect of FC Dallas’ system. The Colombian winger is one of the most unpredictable wingers in the league, and that unpredictability often complicated the link between him and Cannon. “You never know if [Barrios] is going to take it one-on-one or two-on-one,” Cannon explained to MLSsoccer.com, further adding that he needs to improve his recognition of appropriate moments to get forward.

While this recognition is still in the works, watching Cannon storm forward is the equivalent of watching a cheetah hit top speed while chasing its prey. A horrendous sight for those tasked with defending him, Cannon’s pure pace is an important asset to his offensive game. Combined with an industrious work rate, his defensive recovery runs are just as astonishing as his lung-busting bursts up the field.

His imposing swagger immerses itself into his game. His fearless play is a refreshing trait many recent up and coming American players seem to all carry within them. Mistakes, regardless of their repercussions, hardly ever phase Cannon. He holds a firm understanding of what it takes to grow after a testing 2017, taking each misplaced pass or poor piece of marking from this season in stride to perfecting his craft.

Cannon’s sophomore year not only introduced him to the vast majority of MLS fans, but it also introduced him to football at the international level. While the prospect of claiming MLS Cup in the postseason still stands, the highlight of 2018 for Dallas’ young star is undeniably his first ever call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team. Along with FC Nordsjælland winger Jonathan Amon, Cannon was yet another starlet Dave Sarachan gave the opportunity to, to make their case for a role in a new-look USMNT squad.

After sitting the bench in the USMNT’s friendly against Colombia, Cannon was thrown into the starting lineup to face Peru five days later. An international debut often throws a player’s nerves and emotions into overdrive, and Cannon told MLSSoccer.com in a post match interview the “[his] head was kind of spinning” during the first half.

For the most part, he did well to hide his nerves as he looked as confident as ever holding down the right-back position for 84 minutes. In fact, Peru struggled to breakdown the United States’ backline let alone create opportunities on Cannon’s side of the pitch. It was only after Cannon came off for DeAndre Yedlin did Peru claim an equalizer. Though Julian Green should take responsibility for losing possession in midfield, Yedlin’s failure to keep his mark on Edison Flores at the back post gave the winger all the room he needed to put the ball away.

As Cannon returns to Dallas, his intentions will turn towards claiming the Western Conference title and reaching the MLS Cup Final. Though Dallas as a team have faltered in recent weeks, his individual momentum continues to move in an upward trend. Should he elevate Dallas’ form, off the back of his USMNT debut, Cannon will have a fair opportunity at being called up for the November friendlies against England and Italy.

2018 merely scratched the surface of Cannon’s potential and, if the Dallas franchise’s confidence in his capabilities is anything to go by, there is a lot to be excited about in the coming years.

Editor’s Note: This article comes from Justin Sousa, a freelance writer.