Three hundred games played in Major League Soccer.
Players don’t reach that plateau too often — the league only has 15 players in the 300 club — and only one of those is a goalkeeper.
But that elite group of players looks set to have its newest member, as Vancouver Whitecaps FC starting ‘keeper Joe Cannon is expected to play his 300th match this Saturday against the LA Galaxy (7:30 p.m. PT, watch live on Sportsnet Pacific, listen on TEAM 1410 radio, or watch on your Bell mobile device).
“Hopefully I can get to 400 at some point!” Cannon joked with reporters after training on Thursday when asked about game 300. “That would be about four seasons away, so maybe I should make that a goal.
“It’s nice, but like I said before, it’s something you look back at more so than embrace it at the moment, because you’re in the middle of a game,” Cannon continued. “[If] I come off the pitch and lose to LA, I’m not going to be happy if it’s my 300th game, so I’ll try to make it special, make some good saves, and let the chips fall where they may.”
WATCH: Cannon stops Agudelo header
After being overlooked in the MLS draft, the Idaho-born ‘keeper might have seemed an unlikely candidate to join the tricentennial club as he began his professional career in the late 1990s, starting with the now-extinct San Diego Flash of the A-League.
However, Cannon’s play with the Flash earned him an MLS contract with the San Jose Earthquakes, initially as a backup to David Kramer.
But it didn’t take long for Cannon to claim the starting job as his own, replacing Kramer eight games into the season after the veteran went down with a shoulder injury.
Cannon played so well in Kramer’s absence that he earned the No. 1 shirt, and it wasn’t long before he built a reputation for himself as one of the league’s top ‘keepers, culminating in an MLS Cup championship in 2001.
“San Jose was a team near the bottom, so I was lucky to get a good string of games,” Cannon told MLSsoccer.com. “It really took until the third year when Frank Yallop came in to shore the team up, and I was lucky to be part of a really successful group.”
But it wasn’t just a group success — as an individual he excelled, and was recognized for his talent and performances by winning his first MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2002.
Then came his time with the Colorado Rapids. While Cannon continued his individual success with another Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2004, life with the Rapids wasn’t always easy.
“In Colorado, I think I made more of an individual name for myself,” Cannon said. “But, at the same time, the team wasn’t as successful.”
The journey to reach the 300-game mark has not been a simple one for Cannon, but he’s battled through injuries and the challenges that come with playing for teams just starting off in the league.
“The last three or four years of my career, being with expansion teams, and then breaking my ankle last year was probably the culmination of a lot of things,” Cannon said. “Now, it’s a more philosophical way to look at these games, in the sense that you really try to cherish the moment.
“You don’t know how long you’re going to be out there,” Cannon continued. “Last year it was a freak accident and I could have been out for the rest of my career. Luckily I came here and now that I’ve got a run of games I’m starting to hit form, and hopefully things continue in that direction.”
Tom Soehn, in his role as director of soccer operations, selected the 36-year-old in the eighth round of the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft.
After starting the year as Jay Nolly’s backup, Cannon found himself back in a starting role after Soehn made the move downstairs to the touchline.
“Joe came off a major injury and it’s taken time to be totally fit and sharp,” Soehn said. “I think he’s there now. The last few games, you’ve seen he’s been the difference maker and continues to be a steady piece back there, winning us games and keeping us in games, so on that side it’s a real positive.”
In recent weeks, Cannon has shown the quality that won him two MLS Goalkeeper of the Year awards. Most notable was a spectacular individual performance against the Houston Dynamo in a 1-0 win at Empire Field on Aug. 27, when he made a series of highlight-reel saves on Brian Ching and Brad Davis.
His reaction save on Ching during the second half of that match earned him an MLS Save of the Week nomination, and he’s up for the award again this week for a stop he made on Juan Agudelo during the 1-1 away draw with the New York Red Bulls this Saturday.
“The last few years have been much more difficult,” Cannon said. “It’s always difficult to win in this league, but now you see it from both ends. I’ve been all over the spectrum, but I’m looking forward to ending my career the way it started.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon