FRISCO, Texas — It’s been three seasons since midfielder Paxton Pomykal became FC Dallas’ 15th homegrown player. Coming off a U-18 academy championship in 2016, Pomykal’s potential was never doubted. He is one of the first players who comes to mind when listing important signings from the developmental setup.
This year, under new coach Luchi Gonzalez, Pomykal is expected to take the next step in his career and break into the first team. He received big minutes during the preseason, and many think he could be on track for a starting role.
“He’s a player that is always checking his shoulder. He’s always checking the opposition. He’s checking his teammates. He’s aware of time and space before he’s receiving the ball,” Gonzalez said. “Then, when he receives it, he anticipates what his decision is going to be before he gets the ball. That helps him — either on the dribble, helps him to play one-touch, helps him to play two, helps him to use his body and potentially move one way then go another.
“Just a really smart player that I think is now taking the next step in terms of impact and competing with seasoned veterans and finding ways to win, finding ways to be the winning team in training or the winning team in the exercise or the winning team on Saturday. I’m seeing positives in those steps.”
In his younger days, he moved from his Dallas Texans squad to join FC Dallas’ academy. Gonzalez was part of the process that brought Pomykal to the team. It wasn’t the smoothest of beginnings for Pomykal. Moving to the FCD academy meant leaving his closest friends and a comfortable environment, one he was in for eight years. But Pomykal went to Dallas in pursuit of something new and to continue his quest of becoming a professional soccer player.
The relationship between Gonzalez and Pomykal is strong. Gonzalez coached Pomykal in his academy days and continued their lines of communication after Pomykal joined the first team.
“I think that Luchi and I think a lot alike when it comes to the game and we have similar concepts and ideas when thinking of the game of soccer,” Pomykal told Pro Soccer USA. “So I think that helps us with our relationship — and just solely off the fact that when I was 16, he was my coach and we had a good relationship with player-coach. And then we maintained that relationship over time when I transitioned to the pro team and he was still with the academy. We still kept in touch, kept good communication. Now that he’s the first-team coach, we already have the foundation built.”
Pomykal’s development has been an interesting case study. Some homegrowns his age, such as D.C. United midfielder Chris Durkin, have played significant minutes for their team. Durkin played 1,503 minutes compared to Pomykal’s 125 in 2018. And younger homegrowns have supplemented some MLS minutes with playing time in lower leagues. For example, Sporting Kansas City’s 16-year-old Gianluca Busio made seven appearances for 153 minutes with the MLS team and another 10 for USL affiliate Swope Park Rangers. George Bello, who turned 17 in January, played 177 minutes for Atlanta United and had six appearances for Atlanta United 2.
FC Dallas had a different situation. Not having a USL team in the club, the team had to loan its players to other USL teams not under its control. Rather than do that with Pomykal, FCD elected to continue his development at home. The coaches wanted him to compete for minutes and be available, if needed. He has never gone on loan to any team, unlike his other teammates Jesus Ferreira and Brandon Servania, who have each had stints with the USL Championship Tulsa Roughnecks.
“I can’t have any regrets on the way that things happened,” Pomykal said. “You just gotta look forward at this point. The situation I was in was a sticky one because they didn’t really want to send me on loan because I was in that 19-20 man team that they wanted in Frisco to be available for the roster. Most of the time, I ended up being the 19th guy that had to go to the locker room before the game and just be there in case some guy got injured.
“It was weird in between that I wasn’t really getting a lot of playing time, but at the same time, they wanted me around. I can’t have regret on that, it’s what Oscar and the coaching staff believed. And whether or not I went on loan, I think that my development is good so I’m not regretful at all.”
He’s only starred in eight MLS regular-season matches during his three years at FC Dallas. Fans have been clamoring to hear his name enter the lineup. Pomykal said the keys to surviving that playless stretch was patience and taking advantage of playing time, regardless of where it was. Pomykal was part of the United States’ 2018 U-20 World Cup qualifying roster, scoring three goals and assisting on seven more as the team won the U-20 Concacaf championship.
“It’s a grind,” Pomykal said. “It’s tough mentally, but at the same time, you know that when you get your chance, you just have to make the most of it and I think for the younger guys as well, we see guys like Kellyn and Victor who started off as not playing as much and gradually over time, they implement themselves in the team and then are starters and now move onto to different teams. You have to be patient.”
Pomykal has been deployed in many positions throughout his career, specifically at winger and central midfielder. In Gonzalez’s current system, the team has two No.8s alongside a No.6 in the midfield. Pomykal has paired with new designated player Bryan Acosta and midfielder Jacori Hayes in the preseason.
Even though he has a preferred position, it doesn’t matter to Pomykal at long as he’s playing.
“It’s strange because it goes and comes in spurts [depending on] where I am and what I’m doing,” Pomykal said when asked about his favored position. “If I’m playing on the wing, and I’m doing really well, obviously, I’ll enjoy the wing. If I’m playing in the middle and I’m doing really well in the middle, I’m going to enjoy the middle.
“Naturally, I think I prefer to be in the middle, just because I’ve grown up playing in the middle and that’s how I think, and I love being around the ball and moving. That’s just naturally where I prefer, but at the same time, for the aspect of being here and the team, I need to be versatile. I need to know multiple positions. We’re doing double eights, so that’s where I’ve been training all preseason pretty much and I assume that’s where I’ll be during the year, but I don’t know. If a winger goes down and I need to go out there, I have to be able to do that too.”
Part of Pomykal’s soccer identity lies with Premier League giant Arsenal. Pomykal doesn’t model himself after a certain player. Instead, he references the Gunners’ teams from 2006-12 and the way the team moved the ball, using one or two touches.
“I want to be on the ball,” Pomykal said. “I like to combine and play with other players. I’m not necessarily an individual. I like being a part of the team. I like working on defense and pressing. I don’t like to be the center of attention when it comes to the game. I like to be apart of a 10 pass, one-touch goal instead of just a one-time screamer.”
FCD right back Reggie Cannon has seen Pomykal grow. He played with Pomykal on the 2016 U-18 championship team and is one of Pomykal’s closest friends. The two are often seen with each other outside of training. He’s eager to see his close friend’s season unfold. It could mirror Cannon’s own development. After not playing in 2017, Cannon emerged on the scene in 2018 and earned former coach Oscar Pareja’s trust.
“Paxton is a very special player,” Cannon said. “Not only is he young, but he has the potential to really break out this year. In the position he’s in, he can play any position. He can play winger, he can play 10, he can play six, he can play any of those positions. He’s a very technically gifted player and I think he really has what FC Dallas needs.
“Even if he’s coming in as a sub, I think he’s going to kill it. He’s going to be that player that changes the game and he’s got so much potential. I have the utmost respect for him because Paxton is a very special player and he’s gone through a bit of a rough patch, like everyone in their career does. I see him and a couple of other players in my spot two years ago and that was the toughest part of my life. I know when he gets the opportunity, he’s not going to let it go.”
Pomykal wants to be the player that Gonzalez can rely on week in and week out to help the team get the result it wants. It’s not about getting MLS minutes anymore for him; it’s about continuously getting those minutes week in and week out.
Pomykal is hungry and eager to show he can be that player — the one FC Dallas envisioned when the team signed him in 2016.
“In the first year, I was just happy to get minutes,” Pomykal said. “This season, I want to be someone who is needed to win the game. It’s not, ‘Oh we’re up 3-0, this is a good opportunity to get him MLS minutes.’ I want to be the guy they use frequently and rely on to get the results.”