From overlooked to mainstay: How Reggie Cannon "found himself" at FC Dallas

Reggie Cannon - Solo shot - FC Dallas

FRISCO, Texas — Reggie Cannon wasn't a name on anyone's lips at the conclusion of the 2017 MLS season; the FC DallasHomegrown recorded just one minute of league action.

But the 20-year-old leads FCD in minutes on the field in 2018, and this week received his first call-up to the US men's national team on Monday.

"It's crazy when you think about it," said Cannon. "[Dallas head coach] Oscar [Pareja] really gave me that confidence at the end of last year, you know, 'keep going and keep pushing, push for that starting spot, you can do it.'"

The hometown kid didn't have the most straightforward start in MLS. Even after he won back-to-back U.S. Soccer Development Academynational championships with Dallas, the North Texas club weren't ready to sign the right back. With his parents both educated at Ivy League schools, Dartmouth and Brown, Cannon opted to head off to college to study while bettering himself as a soccer player.

UCLA was his chosen destination, and Cannon started all 20 games in his freshman year with the Bruins.

"Everyone wants to go straight from academy to the first team, but a lot of factors go into that," said Cannon. "Personally I wasn't ready to get to that next level professionally, and I think UCLA really helped prepare me in all aspects for that professional career."

Cannon signed as FC Dallas' 18th Homegrown Player in December 2016. Despite achieving a dream in becoming a professional player, Cannon's first season would prove challenging, with a lack of meaningful game time as he found himself back playing with the academy team. A fruitless loan with OKC Energy FC saw Cannon face rejection on multiple fronts.

"I had plenty of setbacks last year," recalled Cannon. "Coming home from college and playing with the academy was kind of a kick in the face. It felt like no one really believed in me at that time, not even the coaching staff. There was a point where I needed to find and believe in myself, to show that I can get my game to that next level."

After missing the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2017, Dallas parted ways with incumbent right backs Hernan Grana and Atiba Harris. Cannon was thrust into the starting lineup as Pareja refocused FCD on the youthful energy that had helped the team win the 2016 U.S. Open Cup and Supporters' Shield trophies. The team experimented across preseason with both three- and four-man back lines, and Cannon struggled with the varying defensive and attacking responsibilities.

"You never know if he’s [right winger Michael Barrios] going to take it one-on-one or two-on-one," Cannon told MLSsoccer.com after Dallas' February meeting with Tauro FC in the Concacaf Champions League, which ended in an upset loss for the MLS side. "Basically I’m right-hand cover and I have to figure out when to go and when not to go, so that’s something I need to improve on in my game."

From that early uncertainty, we've witnessed youth development firsthand, as Cannon has gone from a very uncertain fullback to one of Major League Soccer's top defensive talents and an increasing presence on the USMNT radar. The partnership with Barrios has become a potent threat for FCD, with seven goals and seven assists from the right-sided duo. With more than 30 consecutive starts and nearly 3,000 minutes played in all competition, a new set of challenges has arisen.

"It's been a hard season, especially on my body," explained Cannon. "The position, outside back, you may not be running the most but you're making those 80-yard sprints, the overlaps. That really takes a toll on your body."

Pareja is one of MLS's great believers in developing within the academy system. The FCD coach struck a philosophical tone while discussing the growth of a player he has personally primed for the team’s right back role since the age of 15.

"The beauty of this game is that the player is growing also by themselves and finding the answers," said Pareja. "That timing is not just dictated by the coach, but is dictated by their experiences in the games, and I know Reggie is going to be growing much more."

With the MLSsoccer.com 22 Under 22 list being unveiled this week, we asked several FC Dallas players and staff where Cannon will place, with a variety of opinions ranking him in the top 10.

So what does the man himself think?

"Let me just say Alphonso Davies deserves to be No. 1 for sure," said Cannon. "The guy is unbelievable, and out of all the players I've played against this year, he was the best player hands down. As far as me personally, I don't know … Wherever I land, I'll be content just being on the list."