FRISCO, Texas — As FC Dallas opened its 2019 training camp at Toyota Soccer Center, a new energy filled the air.
The Gonzalez era had begun.
New coach Luchi Gonzalez — hired in December after Oscar Pareja departed for Club Tijuana in Mexico — and his assistants, Peter Luccin and Mikey Varas, kicked off their first training session with some passing and movement drills.
Even though the team was missing some players, such as Reggie Cannon, who is with the United States men’s national team, and new designated player Bryan Acosta, who has not yet arrived, it was largely a full session. Paxton Pomykal and Brandon Servania were back after a long hiatus with the U.S. under-20 national team.
“It’s good,” Pomykal said when asked how it felt to be back with the club. “I missed the whole last month, basically, of club because I was at the U-20 qualifiers, so I haven’t seen these guys since before thanksgiving. It’s good to be back on Field One, training where we always train, and getting back to the swing of things.”
For others, such as midfielder Jacori Hayes, it was about getting back into the competitive nature of training. Hayes trained with Cannon and Colorado Rapids midfielder Kellyn Acosta during the offseason to get himself in shape for his third MLS season.
“It was kind of a repeat of last year,” Hayes said. “We were lifting together and training and doing soccer drills together so we were doing two-a-days for a couple of days during the week. You surround yourself with players like that and hopefully, you get better. Hopefully, some of Reggie and Kellyn’s success rubs off on me.”
The staff used many rondos during the first training session, something Pomykal and Hayes emphasized after practice. Rondos are training drills used across the world that pits two groups of players against each other, with one group having a player advantage (5v2, 3v1, 4v2, etc.). The group with the advantage tries to keep possession, and there is usually a touch and space restriction.
“I think rondos are something that Luchi takes dear to his heart and that is something that is really in his philosophy,” Pomykal said. “Getting around the ball and combining and everyone wanting to get there and play together. I think even in the first training session you can already see that that’s something that he really likes to do.”
Gonzalez believes the rondo has a very important purpose in his training and is one of the basic philosophies that he wants the squad to grasp.
“They’re fun,” Gonzalez said. “We feel the real game has a lot of those situations. We feel that rondo is an extension of the real game with smaller numbers. Rondos can be positional, you can play with spaces and numbers and touches. You can play with the objectives of it. We feel it’s a big reflection of the real game. 11 versus 11 is also a rondo in our eyes, just different constraints, different challenges, different spaces.
“A lot of our foundation is going to be built in that way, so players have their head up and their confident and they’re decisive even though they will make mistakes. Over time, they will build confidence in tight, fast pressure situations so it’s one of our fundamentals.”
An important element Gonzalez wants to bring to FC Dallas is an off-the-field culture as well. During the offseason, he spoke about the importance of having players fit the club’s values off the pitch and on.
The team had a meeting before its first practice of training camp to discuss those principles.
“What I got from Luchi is that he is a big family guy,” Hayes said. “Everyone that wears the badge, from front office, teammates and staff, are all a big family fighting for the crest. I like everything that he said in the meeting and, hopefully, we can carry it out as a team.”
Pomykal believes the team has that culture instilled already. Pomykal has been with FC Dallas for years, dating to his academy days before he was signed as a homegrown.
“A good example is our academy,” Pomykal said. “We have that culture and even with Oscar, we had that culture. He doesn’t want to instill it, I think he just wants to maintain and enhance it. I think we already have it and we just grow as a team and as a unit and keep the culture the same.”
Gonzalez almost echoed that statements, talking about evolving the culture instead of wanting to cultivate a brand new ideology.
“We want to set the example as staff, as a club, what we feel is the right culture,” Gonzalez said. “We have a strong culture that’s been here and modeled by Oscar and his staff but we just want to evolve the culture. A culture of optimism, warrior mentality, not being victims, moving forward, finding solutions. A culture of creativity and development, communication. A lot of things that we can talk about, but we want to act.”