Even in a pandemic, even despite numerous hurdles both big and small, Reggie Cannon's eventual transfer to Europe made too much sense to be delayed any further.
Cannon officially moved from FC Dallas to Portuguese club Boavista on Wednesday, marking a happy ending to an ordeal that could have easily become a saga because of the financial and practical barriers presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 22-year-old right back grew through the Dallas academy, spent a year playing college soccer then broke into the first team as a regular. Progress is never exactly linear not the same for everyone, but his is a prime example of what Dallas have sought to cultivate with their academy.
“I’ve always had aspirations to be one of the best fullbacks in the world and I still have that dream,” Cannon said in a statement. “I want to play in a World Cup one day, I want to make a name for myself. Dallas has provided me with that springboard and with that opportunity to ultimately go overseas and be challenged. I’m really excited for this opportunity and I thank Luchi, club, the staff, and everyone that’s given me an opportunity to get to the next level.”
It may sound underwhelming for Cannon, who has grown into a USMNT regular, to move to a mid-table Portuguese club, but there's more depth to this move.
Boavista's Lille connection
First, though, on the surface, Cannon will have a clear lane at being the first choice right back. In fact, there isn't another natural right back currently on the squad. He's also their club-record transfer by at least double if not triple their previous mark, which brings us to the Lille connection.
Gerard Lopez, who owns Ligue 1's Lille, recently purchased majority ownership of Boavista. Lille recently signed former Manchester United product Angel Gomes and sent him to Boavista on loan. They also have Leo Jardim and Manuel Cafumana on loan from Lille.
Furthermore, Lille's starting right back, Zeki Celik, is a 23-year-old Turkish international and unquestioned first choice at the position. He started 34 of Lille's 38 league games in 2018/19 then 23 of their 28 in the truncated 2019/20 campaign. Cannon will get the playing time in Portugal he wouldn't get in France.
Lille have been lauded for their talent identification and development over the last decade. They produced and developed Real Madrid's Eden Hazard, Liverpool's Divock Origi and Everton's Lucas Digne in the 2010s. This summer they sold Victor Osimhen to Napoli after just one year at the club, they also sold Gabriel Magalhães to Arsenal this summer after sending Nicolas Pepe to the English club last year.
The list goes on and on. It's a long-winded way of saying: If Lille think you're good/an undervalued asset, it's a huge vote of confidence.
If Cannon does make his way to Lille eventually, it'll add to their Concacaf flavor. Last year, they bought rising USMNT attacker Tim Weah from PSG. This summer they acquired Canadian star Jonathan David from Club Brugge.
Impact of Cannon's deal on Dallas, MLS
The transfer can have a hugely positive impact on the club (as well as the league) in two ways.
First, if Cannon is successful, the price just went up for the next Dallas players a European club is interested in. The likes of Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi are already three of MLS's top prospects. Bryan Reynolds, a teenage Homegrown product, is a candidate to sponge most of the minutes vacated by Cannon at right back. They can also point to academy products Weston McKennie and Chris Richards, as positive examples of the talent they're producing, too.
Second, it shows a proof of concept to that next crop of rising talent that there's an amicable pathway to Europe if that's the player's desire. Dan Hunt has said that he hopes one day of a starting XI for Dallas of players that came through the academy, and who wouldn't want that? But that's not the only option.
“We’re so proud of what Reggie Cannon has accomplished during his FC Dallas career,” Hunt said, via the club. “He’s gone from Academy to starting for the first team and representing his country for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Reggie is the epitome of what we’re trying to accomplish here at FC Dallas."
Emphasis mine on that quote.
I'm sure Dinamo Zagreb would rather still have academy graduates Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Andrej Kramaric and Dejan Lovren in their first team, but those players all were transferred onto bigger clubs as the next budding talents came through the first team. Zagreb have won 14 of the last 15 Croatian league titles, too, which is obviously not a direct comparison to an MLS club given the parity and competition, but you can be competitive and develop players at the same time.
On the same thread, this is the kind of deal that technical director Andre Zanotta knows. It's why his background made him the right profile for Dallas to hire. He worked extensively in the front offices of Brazilian clubs, helping make deals that sent Neymar to Barcelona, Arthur to Barcelona and Felipe Anderson to Lazio.
Now he can add Reggie Cannon to Boavista as the first Dallas entrant to that growing list.