Ask FC Dallas fans about their frustrations with the 2017 season and it won't take long for them to bring up Reggie Cannon. With the team on a run that would end with two wins in the last 15 MLS matches of the season - a skid that still saw the team miss the playoffs only after losing a tiebreaker - there were frustratingly few changes to the starting XI.
FCD coach Oscar Pareja, normally praised for utilizing the young players produced by the league's best academy system, stuck with veteran right back Hernan Grana. Cannon logged one MLS minute all season.
That number will grow and grow quickly in 2018 with the 19-year-old academy product set to start at right back for FCD during a season in which it will look to return to the playoffs and once again contend for MLS Cup. It begins Wednesday, when Cannon is likely to start in FCD's CONCACAF Champions League match against Tauro FC in Panama.
Cannon clearly has been hoping for this opportunity since signing with FCD's first team in December 2016 after a season with UCLA. He's not stewing about getting just the one minute last year, though, saying he learned from Grana (who is back in Argentina after a one-year loan) and fellow veteran Atiba Harris (now playing in Mexico's second division).
"Grana and Atiba taught me a lot last year. They were my mentors. I looked up to them, and they taught me everything I needed to be successful on the pitch. Grana was a phenomenal right back, that’s no secret," Cannon told Goal. "Him and Atiba told me to keep going. You might not be playing but you never know when your time will come. You just have to be ready.
"They kept motivating me on the pitch and every game they played I watched, I studied. They were just people I looked up to and it was great to have them as mentors. They really prepared me for this next step."
That step not only looks to include starting at right back for a team that just two seasons ago had one of the best defenses in the league, but also filling multiple roles. Cannon is set to be the right back in a traditional back four next to center backs Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler and left back Anton Nedyalkov. But Pareja also is planning to mix in more looks using wingbacks, something that will fit Cannon's skill set well when he's asked to get forward more often.
Cannon knows the difference of what's expected from him in the two systems, explaining how he needs to create width when he's playing as a wingback but is able to look for more overlaps when he's being asked to play in a back four. Much of that tactical understanding comes from coming through the FCD academy. Cannon is one of three likely starters for FCD this season who came out of the academy, with midfielder Kellyn Acosta and goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez also set to start. Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira could, like Cannon, see more minutes after being seldom utilized last year.
"The guys from the academy have an important plus in that they already have the tactical knowledge," Pareja told Goal. "That’s why it helps us when we change formations like we want to that 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."
Perhaps Cannon's biggest area for development is deciding when to get forward to join the attack and when to prioritize defense. The teenager described his decisions as a younger player as "reckless," but at times he could use his speed to cover them up. That's not an option when the speed of play moves as quickly as it does at the MLS level.
Pareja has told Cannon that he's seeing improvement in his decision-making process. So too has winger Michael Barrios, who likely will combine with Cannon more than any other player as they work down a right side that was responsible for the overwhelming majority of FCD's scoring plays in 2017.
"Last year, I had the chance to play a few games with Reggie," Barrios, FCD's top scorer last season told Goal. "He’s a strong, fast player. He’s always well-positioned when we’re playing defensively. He’s very good in one-on-one situations. Good getting into the attack, giving me overlaps and helping me with the transition to defense. I think he’s going to be important for us. We’re working with the coaches to understand each other better and do really good things."
It might be easy to underestimate Cannon, a lanky 19-year-old kid who is obsessed with video games (he plays FIFA but right now is playing far more Fortnite). He's not underestimating himself, though, heading into the season that could launch a long career.
"Yeah, I feel prepared," he says, before the question is even finished being asked. "I can’t wait. It’s going to be an exciting season."
"I try not to think about it too much. In reality I’m a teenage kid who is about to be a starter in MLS," he continued. "You never know what the strain of games of can do to a kid. They could fall, they could stand up, it could really make a difference in who they’re going to be, so it’s going to be interesting to see how I cope with that and hopefully it’ll go good for me."