There is no hesitation from Reggie Cannon when he considers whether his view of America has changed since moving to Europe. “One hundred million percent,” the US full-back explains from his Porto home. “Looking at the insurrection, Texas freezing over right now … explaining to my teammates what is going on in the country is baffling to me. Explaining the America I have lived in to those who don’t live in America, it feels like I am describing medieval times.”
On and off the pitch, however, there are increasing reasons for optimism for the 22-year-old defender who swapped MLS for Boavista last summer. Cannon has impressed in the shop window that is the Portuguese league, already attracting interest from the Bundesliga, La Liga and Premier League, all while the election of Joe Biden at least symbolically ended a tumultuous four years in his homeland.
But Cannon is not the first member of his family to distinguish himself in his chosen field. Cannon’s grandfather, Warren M Washington, is a highly-regarded scientist in the field of climate change. In 2010, Barack Obama named Cannon’s grandfather as one of 10 eminent researchers to be awarded the National Medal of Science.
“Growing up I didn’t even know what my grandfather had done all for my country, for science. He has done an incredible amount of work. Even now, where people still reject climate change in America, I look at the work my grandfather has done to scientifically prove a lot of that exists and it’s a threat that is coming – it’s really incredible to see the groundbreaking work he has done, especially as an African American in his time.
“He has broken a lot of boundaries and he has given a lot of motivation to my career and that’s why people can’t push me down because he had to go through it all to get to the level he is; to shake Obama’s hand; to win that medal; to prove scientists wrong that an African American can do that. He played a very pivotal role in paving a lot of paths for people. I have the utmost respect for him, he has given me a lot of motivation. His work in climate change really speaks to me now, especially when we see people deny climate change. It is incredibly important.”
Although Boavista have struggled this season, despite an early victory over Benfica, Cannon has been one of the standout performers. His plan was always to come to Europe, although doing so during a pandemic meant leaving his family and pet dog behind without notice. It was the step up from MLS he says he needed in order to achieve his goal of becoming one of the world’s best right-backs. Cannon has already experienced two coaching styles, as 37-year-old Vasco Seabra was replaced by Jesualdo Ferreira, a man twice his predecessor’s age, midway through the season. Playing alongside experienced players like Javi Garcia and Adil Rami is another crucial point in his education, as he looks to reach the levels his teammates did.
“The new coach challenges me a lot to do the right thing and to do things that make me uncomfortable, which is something I want to get out of my game. It’s players like Javi and Adil, that have done so much in football, that have experienced so much and been at the world’s biggest clubs that are really helping me improve my game. Rami is a good friend of mine and has helped me adapt to Portugal, he kind of gives me a wink and he really believes I can really get to the top level of football he played. I can feel it and he feels my belief.”
Cannon’s rapid progression at Boavista is undoubted, and it should be a great boon to the US national team. The former UCLA student already has 13 caps to his name at 22, becoming an integral part of a squad with big ambitions thanks to the quality available to Gregg Berthalter. The likes of Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna and Yunus Musah are tipped to give the US their first chance of challenging for a World Cup, when they host the tournament jointly with Canada and Mexico in 2026.
“I think this team can win a lot of trophies. The World Cup is the end goal but first we are focused on the Nations League and friendlies coming up. I think with the talent this group has and the depth we are getting in each position, I think this team can make a deep, deep run in the next World Cup.
“I see a lot of people say 2026 is going to be the big chance for USA considering where it is and everyone having the chance to develop at the biggest clubs, I do believe that but our focus is on the next World Cup, making sure we qualify and get those experiences under the belt. I think it’s going to be huge. This squad has so much quality, playing at some of the world’s biggest clubs, making huge impacts. It just gives motivation to a lot of the young guys to keep going.”
Off the field, Cannon has been vocal in his support for racial equality, but was booed and had objects thrown at him by his own supporters before an FC Dallas game last year when taking a knee. In the aftermath he described the fan behavior as “disgraceful”. The club tried to make him apologize, even preparing a statement for him to share on social media. Cannon stood firm and rejected his club’s request. Cannon would go on to receive death threats for his actions. He left soon to achieve his dreams far away from Texas, where he had come through Dallas’ academy, with his treatment leaving a sour taste.
“It’s such a polarizing issue when you get down to it but we knew we had to do something that would spark conversation and that was the perfect opportunity to do so. People were against violent protest, they were against peaceful protest but they weren’t against any of that, they were against us speaking, us talking to point out the injustices that my people are facing and have been facing for the longest time.
“That whole situation with Dallas was handled terribly and there were repercussions of it, but my career wasn’t affected by that and I am able to get to the next level in good time. Unfortunately, my safety in America was compromised and that’s the risk you take with pointing out injustices because people are going to disagree. Threatening to kill your family, threatening to show up at your house, threatening to do vulgar things to you, that I can’t say. It is, unfortunately, part of the society that America is today, especially when Trump was in charge. Now we have moved past that.”
The challenge for the rest of America is to recover from the Trump reign. Cannon and his national teammates could be a sporting side at the forefront of a country requiring unification. “I don’t think one man can fix the damage done, I am talking about racial tension in this country, which is a huge issue which people refuse to admit.”