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Hack-A-Pax: Paxton Pomykal’s adjustment to being fouled

Pomykal is third in MLS in fouls suffered per 90 minutes, behind Seattle Sounders midfielder Nico Lodeiro and RSL’s Bofo Saucedo

FRISCO, Tx. — FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal is enjoying a strong 2019 campaign under new head coach Luchi Gonzalez. After being inserted into the starting lineup, he’s shown how impactful he has been for the team defensively and linking play.

With importance comes responsibility for opposing teams, who need ways to shut down the dynamic 19-year-old. Teams will haggle Pomykal, often resulting in him on the receiving end of fouls.

In fact, Pomykal is third in MLS in fouls suffered per 90 minutes. He trails Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and Real Salt Lake attacker Sebastian Saucedo in that category, receiving plenty of contact at the end of plays.

“It’s not something that’s new to me,” Pomykal said after training Tuesday.  “I’ve grown up always getting fouled a lot. It’s part of the game. I don’t think I’ve changed the way I play because of it. I don’t really during the game notice I’m getting fouled. It’s just kind of the way the game happens. It could be Mikey [Barrios] one game, it could be me the next game. It’s just guys like me, smaller guys sometimes get fouled more often. Lodeiro, guys like that. I don’t really see it as a difference.”

Stats from Wyscout.com

Pomykal often is on the receiving end of fouls after winning a duel with his opponent. The opponent will be beaten and then reach out to grab the midfielder, resulting in some sort of action from the referee.  Part of it is Pomykal’s defensive effort, hounding the player he is defending in an attempt to get the ball. 

“I think it’s great if they’re drawing fouls,” Gonzalez said. “That’s part of the game. It’s good productivity to generate free kicks and dead balls and to win. Now it’s our job to take advantage of those and make them count. We have to protect Pax. He’s learning, he’s adapting. I would guess [Lionel] Messi is the most fouled player in La Liga or he would be one of the top. I would guess it’s a positive thing. I view it as a positive. That’s good production for the team.”

However, there is a concern for a player constantly getting fouled. LAFC coach Bob Bradley was upset at the strategy the Portland Timbers executed on star Carlos Vela, fouling him eight times in LAFC’s 3-2 victory. Pomykal’s importance to FC Dallas cannot be understated due to his command of the midfield. When not on the ball, he pursues it, attempting to pick-pocket his foe and turn the opposite way. Dallas is 1-4-2 when Pomykal does not play in matches.

“Obviously, we don’t want him overly charged with soft-tissue blows and Charley horses and contusions,” Gonzalez said. “He’s got to keep being dynamic, learn to protect himself, roll with the fall and he is. I see him absorbing it and learning. It’s not easy. I see him stepping forward and wanting the ball more rather than the opposite. I think that’s good.”

Pomykal’s two highest fouled matches have come against D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union, earning five calls from referees. Many of Pomykal’s fouls come from Dallas’ own third, receiving the ball deep to begin building possession and being broken up by teams attempting to stop the linkage or attempting to steal the ball high up the field. With his importance to the team combining the offense and defense, opponents want to close that off.

While the fouling has continued and added up in the recent weeks, Pomykal’s play has not changed at all. He continues to go into challenges and duels, winning 60 percent of his duels according to Wyscout.

Learning to adapt to the newfound attention will be the continuation of his maturity as a player. Pomykal is not upset at the consistent fouling. He understands it is a part of the game and how he will reach the higher level, especially with the defensive grit and position he plays.

“I mean, it’s just part of the game,” Pomykal said.  “It’s like if you’re a wide receiver in football and you get pass interference called on you, it’s just part of the game. It’s not, like, anything special. Obviously I pick up knocks here and there, but so does everybody else, so it’s not just me.”

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