Friday, November 19, 2004

Gimme Five - This Cannon had a booming year

Joe Cannon named MLS "Goalkeeper of the Year"

Express Staff Writer

Joe Cannon

He happened in Sun Valley.

Sun Valley native Joe Cannon was named "Goalkeeper of the Year," by Major League Soccer last Friday, Nov. 12.

Despite a third-place finish in the Western Conference for Cannon's team, the Colorado Rapids (11-10-11), the 29-year old made a huge impact between the pipes.

Cannon, one of three MVP finalists, played every single second of all 32 games for the Rapids, logging 2,700 total minutes in which his concentration and skill was amply evident.

The 6-2, 190-pound keeper led the league with 150 saves and 11 shutouts, allowing an average of 1.07 goals per game, and a miserly 0.53 goals against on his home pitch, Invesco, setting a new MLS record.

Offensively, the Rapids averaged less than one goal per game (a league low), but thanks to Cannon's prowess almost made the Western Conference Finals, before bowing out to Los Angeles in the semifinals, 2-0.

"Offensively we kind of struggled. We had some key injuries," Cannon remarked. "We had difficulty possessing the ball, especially on the road, so we ended up being a defensive team."

Cannon did not mind the pressure.

The 2002 MLS Goalie of the Year in addition to 2004 thrives on challenge and would not have it any other way.

"I don't like pointing the finger at other people. I would rather have it pointed at me. I can take that kind of tough criticism," he said.

Cannon and his twin, Jon, were born in Sun Valley on New Year's Day 1975.

Father Joe Cannon, a noted singer and entertainer in the valley, and mother Barbara, raised their brood of five boys to be athletes and encouraged their participation in every conceivable sport.

"We played everything," Cannon remarked.

Young Joe said, "I was on the Sun Valley hockey team, ski team, the golf team over at Bigwood. We played flag football, basketball, swimming, diving. We were big into tennis. You name it we did it. She wanted us to do everything, but I know now she was just trying to keep us our of trouble."

The family's early athletic endeavors have paid off.

Jon is currently a pitcher with the Arizona Diamondbacks triple A club, the Tucson Sidewinders. Cody was an All-American water polo player at University of the Pacific. Youngest brother Colt is a professional skateboarding, who, according to Joe, "gets paid very well."

Colt's older brother Joe isn't faring too badly. Top keeper Cannon said his salary is somewhere in the "six-figure" range. But he gives as much as he gets.

Every year during the off season (generally November through January), Cannon conducts soccer clinics in Northern California with the proceeds going to charity.

He also works with autistic children at the Morgan Center in Los Altos and in 2000 was named Humanitarian of the Year by his former MLS team the San Jose Earthquakes.

While growing up the family split time between Sun Valley and Los Altos, Ca. Cannon attended Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum before the family moved back to California for good when he was 12.

He started playing soccer when he was "seven or eight," ironically because his mother thought it would be a good way for him to get his legs in shape for ski racing.

A forward on the pitch for much of his early life, including high school, Cannon, nonetheless, dabbled in goalkeeping starting at age 13.

He went to college at the U.C. Santa Barbara and finished up at the University of Santa Clara with a degree in political science.

"That is probably what I am most proud of," Cannon said. "I was the first one in my family to graduate from college. A lot of people take that for granted, but it takes a lot to stick with it."

After graduating, Cannon played in the soccer equivalent of the minor leagues, the A-League, in San Diego. He caught the eye of a MLS coach and was picked up by San Jose in 1999.

"That was probably one of the happiest days of my life," Cannon said.

Cannon's ascent as an elite player started immediately. In his first season he became the starting keeper with the 'Quakes, backstopping a 14-10 finish with a 1.33 gaa.

In 2001 he was in net for San Jose's victory in MLS Cup Final against the Galaxy and led all goalkeepers in votes in All-Star balloting.

In 2003 Cannon made the jump to Europe to play with RC Lens of France.

"I played for half a year, but I never really caught on with a team," Cannon said.

Still holding his rights, the San Jose Earthquakes traded Cannon to Colorado in the summer of 2003 in exchange for three draft picks, including a first-round draw in 2004.

"It was bittersweet, but that is just the nature of the beast," Cannon said.

The move has not hurt his career. In 2003, Cannon was picked for the National Team for a friendly against New Zealand and has been invited back to national camps currently taking place in Ohio and in Los Angeles next month.

"I don't think twice about doing anything else," Cannon said.

We caught up with a tired, but game, Cannon by phone on Friday after he was named "Goalie of the Year."

JZ—Goalies have a different mentality than other players on the field. What is it about your personality that makes you a good goalie?

JC—I think I am a perfectionist, but it is one position that you really can't perfect. I have put a lot into it. I have sacrificed a lot away from the game to try and improve. I enjoy the challenge and I strive to keep getting better. Another part of my personality is I am kind of a control freak. I would rather depend on myself than ask other people to save things.

JZ—Do you consider yourself a leader?

JC—I am not naturally a leader. In San Jose there were a lot of guys in the locker room that I looked up to, and here too. But we had a lot of injuries this year to key guys like (Pablo) Mastroeni and (John) Spencer and I think I had to take on that role.

JZ—What is the difference in the style of play between European soccer and American soccer?

JC—I think the play of soccer is different from team to team, but I think our brand of soccer is a little more athletic and a little less skilled. I think this league is starting to get recognized as a definite improving league.

JZ—Best game ever?

JC—Any game you don't get scored off of. That happened 10 times this year and I think we can do better. It's funny, a lot of times what I feel is my best game, the media does not.

JZ—Who has had the biggest impact on your professional career?

JC—My club coach Alberto Montoya. He was like a second father to me. He coached me for 10 years. My goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley and Mark Doughtery. They definitely helped me to get where I am.

JZ—Who were your role models growing up?

JC—I looked up to Montoya. Kasey Keller. I knew I wanted to be a goalkeeper, so I followed some European goalies. But my parents taught us to be really self-motivated. I looked up to them and my twin brother.

JZ—What is it like being a twin?

JC—It's great. I think I have a best friend for life. I am not dependent on anyone else. I am kind of a loner, because I know he is always there.

JZ—What is it like celebrating a birthday on New Year's Day?

JC—Very anti-climactic. I don't know why we haven't combined the two holidays yet. It's tough to get people to drink on New Year's Day.

JZ—What are your professional aspirations?

JC—To play with the National Team. Make the next World Cup team and win one or two more Goalie of the Year awards. I would like to win another Cup. To stay healthy, which is a big challenge to anyone when they get older. When you're healthy, you are confident.

JZ—What is the future and viability of Major League Soccer?

JC—It's very viable. We are in our 10th year and have ten teams and two new ones next year. It is a positive time in the league. Crowds range from 10,000 on a bad night to 42,000 depending on the circumstance. We actually average more fans than a lot of the European leagues. I think when the game is played at its highest level it has the potential to attract large crowds. Once you see more money being put into the American game you will attract talent not only from here, but other countries as well. I will probably be out of the game when that happens, but I think it will.

JZ—If you could play something else besides soccer and make a living at it would you?

JC—Men's beach volleyball for sure. When I went to Santa Barbara I loved it. I think if I had to do it again, I would have worked harder at volleyball.

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