It has been a pretty big summer for FC Dallas’ Reggie Cannon. After working his way into the FC Dallas starting eleven last season, the 21 year old right-back has come into his own this year becoming a key part in the The Hoops back four. His defensive work caught the attention of United States Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter calling Cannon up for this past year’s Gold Cup and the starting job in the final against Mexico.
During a recent break for Dallas our own Sean Maslin caught up with Reggie to talk about his season so far, new coach Luchi Gonzalez, and his recent experience with the United States Men’s National Team.
Sean Maslin: What are your thoughts on the season?
Reggie Cannon: It has been an interesting season so far. I think we have had a couple of surprises in the starting lineup and I think given that it is Luchi’s first season as a head coach he has done a great job at managing the talent that he has. We have had some challenging moments coming on to this final stretch of the year but I think we have prepared for it over the last few months. Luchi tends to focus on the defensive side of things but I think something that we have struggled with is putting the ball into the back of the net. So I think that has been a big factor coming into this final stretch of the season.
SM: This is your second as a starter with Dallas. What was the biggest lesson that you learned last year and how have you tried to improve your game this year?
RC: One of the things that I learned last year under Oscar [Pareja, former head coach of FC Dallas] was how impactful the back four can be. If the back four is always together and always in sync it really gives the team the confidence to push higher, to take more chances, and to take more risks. It is something that Oscar stressed: That defense is the most important part of the game and in a sense he was right. The defense affects the midfielders and the forwards and how they play in terms of whether they are going to play cautious or take risks where they might lose the ball. So I think organization and chemistry along the back four is important. But I think our back four has had some great chemistry over the last couple of games and everyone has really stepped up. So I think once we figure out how to put the ball into the back of the net we are going to be very dangerous.
SM: Your backline is considered one of the best in the league. What do you believe makes your team so successful in such a difficult Conference?
RC: Like I said I think it is a combination of having a solid back four, a very interesting dynamic, and having some very creative players up top. For example: Paxton Pomykal in the middle. He really gives us that creativity and energy that we need as a ten. And of course Bryan Acosta as the eight really takes on the role of that bulldog in the middle and helps us win balls back and helps cover the backline. We also have wingers that are some of the best in the league. Mikey Barrios is one of the most dynamic players in the league and Santi [Santiago] Mosquera on the other side is very creative.
But I think in terms of our backline things have really come together over these last couple of months. I think the shift right now needs to focus towards the front three and how to make those dynamic runs into the box and how to be more creative and more threatening. I think that part of our game is going to be very important during this year’s playoffs.
SM: Dallas is obviously known for your Youth Academy but what I noticed is that seems like, particularly in the defense, you actually have a blend of younger players and veterans. How important is it having players with different experiences for the younger players on your side?
RC: I think that is something that a lot of people really don’t understand about our situation. You hear a lot of ‘Oh, play the young kids! Put every young kid out there and see how they do.’ But in reality that is not going to bode well for them and it isn’t going to bode well for the team. Veteran experience is invaluable. Having players like Reto [Ziegler] or Matt Hedges on the backline has really helped me get into the process of getting for games and learning about how to deal with situations as they come up.They were the ones that helped me get to the level that I am at and I don’t think people really quite understand what veteran experience does for young players. It really makes them more comfortable and allows them to play their game.
Take Paxton Pomykal in the midfield as an example. I think my teammates are really helping him out and giving him the confidence that he needs. So I think veteran experience is something that people overlook and I think it is very important to find a balance.
SM: Does having a coach like Luchi [Gonzalez] who is familiar with the Academy and has been with the club for seven years help bridge any gaps?
RC: Luchi’s experience through the Academy and through the [Dallas] pipeline is very important. He is less afraid to play the young kids than Oscar was but he also knows the value of experience and veteran leadership. I think that is a great balance that Luchi has found in the starting eleven and in the rotation. I think that has always been a strength of his: learning what kids are right to play at what time.
SM: Growing up who was your favorite soccer player?
RC: Oh man it would definitely be Gareth Bale. He was my favorite just because he was a left-back before he became the winger that everyone knows today. I’ll never forget the game against Inter Milan in the Champions League. Over those two legs he really cemented himself as one of the best players in the world by tearing apart the best defense in the world at that time. That really stood out to me that a left-back/left-winger can control the game and can change the game.
SM: What is a cooler perk of being a professional soccer player: seeing kids wear your jersey or seeing yourself in a video game?
RC: [Laughter] I think it is a mix of both but I think the best feeling is knowing that kids look up to you. Everytime I see kids an event or an appearance they are just dumbfounded and starstruck and it is just the best feeling ever knowing that I can be a role model for them.
SM: You just recently finished up playing with the US at the Gold Cup. What was that experience like for you?
RC: The Gold Cup experience was something I will never forget. Obviously we were very disappointed not to lift the Cup. But it was a very interesting because I was kind of the last man into camp after that injury to Tyler Adams and I wasn’t sure that I was going to play. But I worked my way up [the ladder] and tried to learn from whoever was in front of me which was Nick Lima and I learned from Gregg’s tactics and from everyone on the roster. So I think I proved what I am capable of and it is something that I have really taken away from the experience: That no matter what level I play at that I can play up to that standard.
SM: What Dallas need to do make a run this year for MLS Cup?
RC: We need to find a way to put the ball into the back of the net. I am obviously a defender and I am never judge my peers up front and I always have their backs defensively and create what I can offensively. But at the end of the day we need to get comfortable in front of goal and that is something that comes not only from us, but from the coaching staff as well. We need to work our trainings to our advantage so that we get more comfortable in those positions and let the game flow. I think this stretch we have upcoming will be very important so I think if we can be more threatening on the counter-attack, in front of goal we can, and in two-on-one and one-on-one situations I think that is something that can be important for us in these final months.