The ties that bind
Last month, on Saturday, September 17, against LA Galaxy, Joe Cannon played in his 300th career MLS match – becoming only the second goalkeeper in league history to do so. It was not always guaranteed that Cannon would reach the feat this season though. He and fellow goalkeeper Jay Nolly have pushed each other for playing time all season, but as Cannon explains, that is something he’s been used to his entire life.
Cannon grew up in a family of four boys: older brother Dave, younger brothers Cody and Colt, and twin brother Jon. It was with the latter where he especially developed his competitive edge.
“It was tough, every day was like a different battle,” said Cannon of growing up with a twin brother. “It was great training, day in and day out. We’d play basketball, baseball, football, videogames, you name it. We had a competition about everything.”
Among their athletic endeavors was competitive ski racing during the winters in Sun Valley, Idaho where they were born. In fact, that was the reason that they originally found their way onto the soccer pitch.
“We started playing soccer at age six,” said Cannon. “My mom got us involved to help my twin brother and I get our legs stronger for the upcoming ski season.”
Playing soccer was no different than anything else. Each wanted to be the best, and Jon was certainly no slouch.
“He was a very good athlete,” recalls Joe. “He was a forward and he used to score a bunch of goals, but he decided to get into baseball because that’s where his talent lay.”
Each has gone on to accomplish a great deal in their respective careers. Jon played 11 years of minor league baseball, including being named pitcher of the year with the Tucson Sidewinders – the former Triple-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks.
Joe, meanwhile, continued along his own path.
Full steam ahead
“I think I was 14 when my head coach told my dad I could get a scholarship,” remembers Joe. “I made that my goal and then I never looked back.”
That scholarship eventually came at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He would play one season there before transferring to the University of Santa Clara – where he spent three successful years. His 518-minute shutout streak in 1995 ranks second all-time in school history.
From there, he began his professional career with San Diego Flash in 1998; he played his first ever road match in Vancouver against the 86ers. He followed that with his first taste of Major League Soccer with San Jose Earthquakes from 1999-02 – a league which was much different than it is today.
“It used to be a crapshoot. You’d say to yourself and joke with your friends, ‘well I hope to see you after the off-season’. But now that’s not the case. If you look at the last four expansion teams, I don’t think you could write a script any better with where the league is headed right now. I think commissioner Don Garber has done a great job and I think the skies are blue for MLS.”
Apart from his time in North America, Cannon also spent some time playing in Europe. In 2003, he moved to Lens, France to play for Ligue 1 team Racing Club de Lens.
“It was incredible,” tells Cannon of the experience. “Off the field, it was great to learn about another culture and learn another language. On the field, it was a much higher level than I had played here in MLS at the time. The team was put together for the UEFA Champions League that year and although it took awhile to adjust, I came back knowing I could play at that level.
“I also realized how hard the children of other football countries work at a young age to play a game that up until that point, I had taken for granted.”
A two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Joe probably would have never made it as far as he has if not for his brother Jon – even if he was at times more of a fierce rival than a brother.
“It was great because it made us both better as far as the athletic stuff goes, but it took its toll on our relationship when we were adolescents,” said Joe of his twin brother. “Now I think it’s brought us so much closer.”
Jon now has a family of his own with a wife, two children and a very busy schedule. Joe, on the other hand, has in his own words, “a wonderful girlfriend, an Xbox and a ton of free time”. But the respect that he has for his brother is unmatched.
“His work ethic and dedication to his family have taught me that I have a long way to go before I think that I’m anything in this world. He’s my best friend and my favourite person in the world. I can’t say enough about him.”
And that is something that he will never take for granted.