A photo of FC Dallas right back Reggie Cannon circulated on Twitter during his team’s match last weekend against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The image showed 19-year-old Cannon trying to push away Galaxy left back Ashley Cole, who appeared to be screaming at him. Cannon even posted the snapshot on Instagram with the caption, “Work until your idols become your rivals.”
Wednesday after training, Cannon talked about the incident. With a laugh, he shared his account of what really happened: Cole was upset at Dallas’ Reto Ziegler for a call made earlier in the match. Cannon tried playing peacemaker during the halftime ordeal.
“He was an idol of mine growing up,” Cannon said of Cole. “One of the best outside backs in the world, and now I got the chance to play against him. He was a tough challenge and I dealt with it, and I think I became a better player because of it.”
Cannon’s maturity in those situations has made him a key part of the Dallas backline.
Last year, Argentine Hernan Grana started at right back much of the season. Cannon only made one MLS appearance, coming off the bench for one minute Sept. 2 against the New York Red Bulls.
But after Dallas’ collapse at the end of the season — the team went 2-7-6 in the final three months and missed the postseason due to a tiebreaker since FCD was even in points with San Jose, which took the final Western Conference playoff spot — technical director Fernando Clavijo and company did not renew Grana’s loan from Argentine side Ferro Carril Oeste.
The move signaled a vote of confidence for Cannon entering the 2018 season.
He’s now started every match this season and is third on the team in minutes played with 782, behind only fellow defenders Ziegler and Matt Hedges. Cannon again is expected in the starting XI when Dallas travels to Vancouver for a 4 p.m. ET match Saturday.
During practice leading up to last week’s 3-2 win over the Galaxy, coaches worked with Cannon very closely, watching his every move and getting on him during the attacking phase of play. It’s part of the learning process for the former UCLA Bruin. He’s still working on his offensive and defensive responsibilities week in and week out, analyzing when to go up and attack and when to stay back and defend.
“Oscar keeps telling me each game to keep getting forward and that I’ll get more comfortable,” Cannon said. “I think we saw that in the LA match, where I may have not gotten a lot of crosses off but I made plenty of overlaps, created a lot of space and starting to know when to go forward and when not go. Still kind of judging that, but I think I’m getting better overall.”
Even though Cannon is taking on all of his new responsibilities with poise, he’s still only 19. He has played in 10 total MLS matches and still is learning how to deal with much more physical players. Last weekend it was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This weekend it will be Kei Kamara.
“I’m starting to learn how to battle against these stronger players,” Cannon said. “They’re maybe not the quickest of players but they know how to post up on you and drop it off to a quicker, more tactical player. Going against [Jo Inge] Berget, [Fanendo] Adi, Ibrahimovic — these players are beating me up, but I’m learning how to deal with them and getting better because of it.”
Cannon’s growth in the last year exemplifies the importance of academies in MLS. The salary cap forces executives to make decisions based on opportunity costs. For some teams, defense is on the lower end of the payroll compared to the attack, which may be full of designated players or players bought down using targeted allocation money.
Personnel decisions become a bit easier when a team has an academy like FC Dallas’, which pumps out professional-caliber players. Cannon was part of Dallas’ developmental academy side that won the U18 Dallas Cup Super Group title last year.
During an interview with Goal.com, FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja talked about the tactical advantage academy players have when first signed to a professional contract.
“The guys from the academy have an important plus in that they already have the tactical knowledge,” Pareja said. “That’s why it helps us when we change formations like we want to. They already know this side of things, they know the models with four at the back and now with the ideas we have, he can adapt to that and there’s no problem there.”
And as a homegrown player, Cannon has a cap-friendly contract. His $67,500 salary, as reported by the MLS Players Association, was among the lowest of all defensive starters in last week’s matches.
In a league that continues to develop its various player acquisition and spending options — with TAM, the Designated Player rule and more — academies are becoming extremely important. MLS teams are spending more and more money on star players, eyeing continental glory. Academy spending is a way to make up for that, providing budget relief and long-term investments for the roster.
And Dallas’ investment in Cannon is beginning to pay off.