Certain aspects of Reggie Cannon’s situation at Boavista FC are pleasant, even glamorous.
“Life in Portugal, it's great. We live 30 seconds from the beach,” Cannon told reporters during a Tuesday media roundtable in Cincinnati ahead of him starting in the US men’s national team’s friendly vs. Morocco at TQL Stadium Wednesday night (7:30 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMas, TUDN). “Opportunities to go to great restaurants, eat amazing seafood.”
"Fighting relegation is never an easy thing"
An address in one of Porto’s more desirable neighborhoods is only part of the story, though. Those ocean views become less a perk and more a mental-health tool when poor results on the pitch effectively mandate spending downtime in the house out of respect for angry, disappointed supporters, especially with Boavista spending much of the past two seasons in the bottom half of the Primeira Liga table.
“With all the stress that comes with the Portuguese league, I think it's nice to be able to live somewhat close to the beach, to be able to relieve some of that,” he continued.
“That's just the culture in Europe. A lot of times I'm not able to do certain things, considering the position we're in, because fans might see you, fans might get upset. I mean, I've told players here [in USMNT camp] many stories of fans showing up to my house, fans banging on my car. Fighting relegation is never an easy thing.”
Versatile in defense
In the two seasons since his transfer from FC Dallas, Cannon has navigated injury troubles – including what he calls a misdiagnosis early in the 2021-22 campaign – cultural and linguistic learning curves, multiple positional assignments from center back to wingback and the aforementioned relegation fears, not to mention multiple moves elsewhere in Europe that collapsed at the 11th hour.
After all that, he still spent most of this year as a 90-minute player for Boavista, and finds himself right in the mix at right back, perhaps the most competitive spot on the national team’s depth chart, as the final countdown to the 2022 World Cup begins.
“Ultimately I look at it as a season of growth. In the beginning it was obviously very tough,” explained the FCD homegrown. “It kind of gave me an opportunity to be more versatile. Now I can play right back, I can play right wingback, I can play center back in a line of three. I think overall it helped me learn and grow and understand the game more.
“But it was a very difficult season. A transfer fell through in the summer, transfers fell through in January. It's just what it is. I just have to keep going and I know my time will come, but I just got to be patient and keep working hard. And that's what I’ve been doing.”
After proving himself across two-plus solid seasons in MLS, Cannon was eager to leave his boyhood club and test himself in a new environment when he moved overseas in 2020. Even the low points on his ensuing journey have validated that sentiment.
“Life abroad is interesting. I really like the people. I think it's obviously a great test for players that they want to see their maximum potential,” he said. “It forces you to find a new level, not only physically in your sport, but also mentally, because there's a lot of challenges that come with living abroad and not being in a place of comfort. And I think that's really important when you look at the potential that players can reach. I think challenging yourself in Europe is one of those really, really big steps that every player needs to overcome.
“That pressure is ultimately what makes a lot of players mentally, emotionally, physically grow up. And I think that's one of the most important and overlooked aspects when people look at Europe, because it really does turn boys into men in reality, and I think it's really important looking at the grand scope of things.”
"Time for a change"
Hailing from a family of academics – his grandfather is a Nobel Prize-winning climate change researcher – Cannon was already a thoughtful sort before he left the United States, and a bit of distance from his homeland has deepened his perspectives further. On Tuesday he spoke of the pain he felt witnessing the United States’ latest prominent school shooting, the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, and the difficult conversations it prompted with some of his Boavista teammates.
“It's really sad and when you look at it, I remember reading the news and being completely distraught by it. But again, it's not a surprise that’s where we're at. We're really desensitized to it,” said Cannon. “I don't think people understand – being in Europe, when this is on the news a lot and when this happens consistently, guys in Europe, they're really confused at what's going on in America.
“It's really weird explaining to them that these are the lives that we live. Like, these are our experiences, and it's kind of normal for us. But it's really sad to hear and I think it's been time for change, but I think this is the biggest call there is for change. Because this has been such a hard thing to deal with. I can't imagine the families and the kids that obviously have suffered from this tragedy.”
Cannon and the rest of the USMNT have spoken out publicly about a range of social issues in recent years, and when asked this week, several players hinted that similar expressions may be in the works on topics like gun violence and Qatar’s questionable human rights record.
Finding consistent minutes
But with so much on the line both individually and collectively over the next six months, they must also find a way to compartmentalize all that in the pursuit of the best possible World Cup run-up. That goes double for Cannon, who would like to move on to a bigger stage in Europe as soon as is feasible.
“I can't even imagine, at this point, how many transfers that have fallen through at the last second. And it's so stressful, it's so frustrating,” he said. “But I just know that this is where I'm meant to be right now. And that's where I've got to deal with it. I've learned a new position this year. I've learned how to play at the top of my game consistently this year.
“So I'm looking at the positives but again, whatever happens happens, and I hope this summer is the summer, because I've seen a lot of promising opportunities pop up. So let's just hope everything works out.”
The unusual circumstances of this autumn World Cup throw another variable into that equation. He, like many of his USMNT colleagues, wants above all to be playing regularly in the final months before the tournament, a key factor as he and his agent plot his next move.
“The move may be all shiny and bright, but when you're so close to a World Cup, that's what you've been working towards for four years, that's what you've been striving for, and it's something that that needs to be the priority,” said Cannon.
“That's the biggest hurdle, is playing time. No matter what club you go to, you need to be in form, you need to be in shape, you need to be at the top of your game when it comes to World Cup time, because again, the talent we're playing is world-class. It's the World Cup.”