TAMPA, Fla.—A pair of MLS fullbacks could take a major step in their careers this week, as both FC Dallas’ Reggie Cannon and New York City FC’s Ben Sweat are in contention to make their US national team debuts Thursday night against Colombia (7:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, UDN).
The two players, however, took vastly different paths to their first USMNT call-up.
Sweat played four years of college soccer at South Florida and was taken in the first round of the 2014 SuperDraft by Columbus Crew SC. But after a couple years of limited opportunities in Columbus, Sweat headed to the second division to revamp his career, a move that earned him a second bite at the apple when he signed with NYCFC in 2017. Since then, he’s been a mainstay at left back under both Patrick Vieira and Dome Torrent, earning his first call-up at the age of 27.
Cannon, meanwhile, is the hotshot Homegrown that signed with FC Dallas last winter at the age of 19. He’s played a key role in FC Dallas’ surge to the top of the Western Conference this season, appearing in all 31 matches so far, and was ranked No. 7 in MLSsoccer.com’s 22 Under 22 rankings last week.
“It’s an honor to get called up to the national team,” Cannon said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to be playing with the best players in America. Michael Bradley and Brad Guzan, legends like that are here and I just want to take as much as I can from this camp and keep learning.”
Unbelievably honored to get the chance to represent my country. Can’t wait to get to work👍 https://t.co/12mQ9rrJFI— Reggie Cannon (@ReggieCannon15) October 1, 2018
For inspiration, Cannon needs only to look at the other right back on the roster, DeAndre Yedlin. Yedlin also made his name at a young age in MLS and broke into the national team while playing for the Seattle Sounders.
“I’ve studied a lot of these players, especially DeAndre,” Cannon said. “I want to take that as a model. I feel like I’m developing at a very good rate and I’m learning a lot. Being here and learning from DeAndre and Michael [Bradley] will hopefully help me bring my game to the next level.”
Sweat, too, wants to learn all he can and carve out a regular place on the national team.
“I’m meeting new teammates and a new coaching staff and I hope to leave an impact,” the NYCFC fullback said. “I want to earn everybody’s respect in the first couple of days and let everyone know I came here for business and I can keep up with all these guys on the field and do what they do. I want to take advantage of the opportunity and see what happens in the future.”
I am extremely honored and blessed to have received this opportunity. It has always been on my list of goals in my career and I couldn’t be anymore grateful and excited to wear the crest of the @ussoccer_mnt and represent this entire country. @nycfc #nycfc #usmnt pic.twitter.com/rqDhTgdWsM— Ben Sweat (@22BenSweat) October 1, 2018
Cannon said that with a little help from former FC Dallas teammate Kellyn Acosta — his camp roommate — it only took a day or so to feel comfortable in this new environment.
“The first day I was just trying get my feet on the ground and kind of blend in, but now I feel like I’ve got enough confidence and enough of the culture to step out and show what I bring to the table,” he said. I’m a very dangerous player attacking-wise, but I always want to be a solid player going backward as a fullback. That’s something I’ve been working on in my game, so hopefully I learn more while I’m here.”
For Sweat, the fact that his first national team camp is in Tampa just makes things just a little sweeter.
He grew up in the area, playing club soccer in nearby Clearwater and college soccer on the very field the U.S. used for training Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I’m expecting a ton of friends and and family and familiar faces [at the game],” he said. “It’ll be a big number. I’m excited to have the support and it’s going to be an awesome moment. … ‘Surreal’ would be a good word to describe that this is all happening in Tampa right now.”