FRISCO - For the first time all season, Reggie Cannon will not start a match for FC Dallas as the team faces DC United on Oct. 13. Instead, the 20-year-old Homegrown will be in the middle of his first U.S. Men’s National Team camp - and possibly fresh off his potential senior team debut vs. Colombia.
Dallas has only played 60 minutes in total this season without its blooming Homegrown defender on the field. He has cemented himself in the starting role and as one of the brightest young American players in the league - coming in at No. 7 on MLSSoccer.com's annual 22 Under 22 list. And with his National Team dreams soon to be realized, it’s hard to imagine 2018 going any better for Reggie Cannon.
It’s a stark contrast, though, to his rookie season in 2017.
“It’s a ridiculous transformation if you look at it,” Cannon reflected this week. “I honestly didn't see myself starting and I couldn't see myself starting, especially after the tough year I had last year. It was a setback in my career, but without it I don't think I’d be ready.”
The emotional high from his freshman semester at UCLA in the Fall of 2016, and signing his Homegrown deal soon after, came crashing down as Cannon struggled to find his place in his new environment.
“It’s hard to believe but honestly at the beginning of last year very few people believed in me, that I could play and keep going. At one point, I didn't believe in myself.”
His lowest point, he says, came during an early-season loan to USL-affiliate OKC Energy FC, a trip that amounted to a couple days of training and not making the team's 18-man roster for the weekend's match.
But at his lowest , Cannon looked within to light a fuse, working every day after training and in the gym back in Frisco. Some of the very people he was competing for minutes with, became his biggest motivators.
“I had plenty of setbacks last year and coming back form college and playing with the Academy, it’s kind of a kick in the face. It felt like no one really believed in me at that time, not even the coaching staff, but there was some point I needed to find and believe in myself to show that I can get my game to that next level.
“I started working extra, a lot extra, you don't have that tone in your body when you're not playing every week, so you can do more. I was working on crossing, finishing, heading, defense, and everything. Just working on those core parts,” Cannon said. “I had people pushing me. I had Atiba [Harris]. I had [Hernan] Grana. I had Victor [Ulloa]. I had Matt [Hedges]. I had Kellyn [Acosta]. I had all these players just pushing me to try to get my game to the next level.”
Cannon’s work began to pay off.
In June, he made his first pro start in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play against Tulsa. He assisted on a goal in his second Open Cup game two weeks later against Colorado. He even made his MLS debut for a single minute against the New York Red Bulls in early September.
But that’s the last we saw of Reggie Cannon on the field in 2017.
Towards the end of the season, as FC Dallas fell from its perch atop the West and missed the postseason, the overwhelming belief that Cannon was ready began to manifest.
Dallas declined the contract options on both Hernan Grana and Atiba Harris. Oscar Pareja pulled him aside and gave the Homegrown the confidence that he lacked over the course of the year. It was Cannon’s role now, and one he's run with ever since.
“I think it’s a process that Reggie is a good example of that,” Pareja said of developing the younger players on his roster. “Last year he played one minute, and this year has played them all. He understood - and this is a good example for others - that the game has a process and we try to be very conscious about what that process is about.”
It’s a process that, even after 2,600 MLS minutes to his name, is still ongoing. Cannon said even over the course of this year, he’s grown more confident and is learning with every single match - though it’s hard to see many flaws in his game now as the calendar hits October.
His National Team call-up is just another fruit of Cannon’s internal fuse through the most trying of times, which has now sparked into a full-blown fire. And he’s just getting started.
“It’s honestly been a surreal journey so far,” he said. “[But] I haven’t accomplished anything yet.”