Reggie Cannon battles Jamaica’s Kemar Lawrence during the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup. (Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis Editor

Reggie Cannon has a message for young American soccer players and those competing in Major League Soccer:

Go East, go men, go East.

As going to Europe to hone your craft and skills and really get challenged.

Earlier this year the former FC Dallas defender to was transferred to Boavista of Portugal’s Primeira Liga for a reported $2 million (plus some potential future considerations if he is transferred to another club).

The 22-year-old right back said the difference between the U.S.’s top domestic league and the one he’s playing in today is like night and day.

“I’ve always wanted to play in Europe and that’s been my goal for the longest time,” Cannon said during a conference call with the media Sunday in preparation for Monday’s international friendly against Panama in Austria. “I have always given this advice to the young guys, to the upcoming guys, … all those guys that competed in the FC Dallas ranks and ultimately the MLS ranks. There’s so much to accomplish in Europe, especially for Americans.

“It’s so amazing to see the level of competition over here. It’s just a completely different level I can’t, I can’t explain in words. You just have to experience it. Ultimately, it’s just going to raise your game as a player. It’s going to make you want to be the best. This European lifestyle is completely different than what MLS offers and again that’s no MLS. I just think that for all these young guys coming up and that should be your goal to ultimately help not only yourself but the national team and everything going forward.”

As much as MLS has grown over the past decade, it still lags behind the rest of the world in quality of play and teams. So, the challenge is there for every player, especially Americans.

“The chances of challenging yourself because in MLS, you can get so comfortable at times,” he said. “You can almost create a bubble of comfort around yourself. Being with family, being able to see all your friends at all times, playing a competition that isn’t nearly as challenging as the rest of the world, make plenty of money and just be comfortable. It’s just so easy to just stay where you are and be satisfied.”

Or go somewhere else to be challenged and stretch your game.

“That’s what the great players and the elites do,” Cannon added. “They go to Europe to challenge themselves. And that’s not saying you can’t be successful in MLS and still playing a World Cup. Of course, you can. But I think just for this player pool, the best thing and the upcoming player pool, the best thing for us to do is to go to Europe and challenge yourself and get a taste of what real football is like, because I think that’s ultimately going to create so much challenge and so much unity within the team that everyone can experience this lifestyle and challenge each other for spots. That’s what makes teams great.”

The 5-11, 165-lb. Cannon again stressed he wasn’t picking on MLS.

“It’s just a higher level in Europe,” he said. “That’s going to make everyone the greatest they can be, which will ultimately make our chances of entering the World Cup and winning a World Cup the best it can be. I think that’s the best statement I can give.”

Since making his international debut against Peru in October 2018, Cannon has made a dozen appearances for the USA.

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said he has seen an improvement in Cannon’s game since his move to Boavista. Cannon this season has played every minute of his club’s seven matches this season, earning a yellow card. Boavista ((1-3-3, 6 points) is in 15th place among 18 teams in the Portuguese first division.

“He seems a little bit more comfortable now,” Berhalter said. “He’s in a grind and he’s competing every single game and that’s been fun to see the transformation. Not that he wasn’t at Dallas. But the pressure is a little bit different. You can see how he’s experiencing that. He’s embracing it. We’re really looking forward to seeing him play.”

Berhalter said that Cannon will start against Panama. The young defender did not see any action in the scoreless draw with Wales Thursday. “So, it’ll be nice to see him play,” the coach said.

Cannon has learned something during Berhalter’s tenure: seize the moment. He certainly can talk from experience at the 2019 Gold Cup.

“One thing Gregg has really instilled in these young guys is seize the opportunity, because you never know what can come from these opportunities,” he said. “I was literally left off the Gold Cup roster. I wasn’t really involved with the national team. And the next thing I know – I kind of joke with Tyler about it sometimes – Tyler Adams gets injured. I get my chance as the last, last, last man on the Gold Cup roster. The next thing I know I’m starting in the final [vs.] Mexico, earning my starting spot on the national team.”

The USMNT lost to Mexico in the final.

“It’s stuff like that,” Cannon said. “It’s small things that you always have to be prepared because you know football comes at you fast and you always going have that opportunity so. I really think it’s important just to kind of seize that opportunity and be ready for the next moment.”

Reggie Cannon’s next moment will come against Panama Monday and it sounds that he is ready to embrace it again.