FRISCO, Texas — The Major League Soccer season is long. Along with the 34 regular-season games over an eight-month period, players may have national team appearances and play in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and international friendlies.
With 10 league games to go, for many teams, it’s make or break time. Players need to be playing in all matches with important points to earn each week, especially in the Western Conference, where Minnesota, the current two seed, and Dallas, the current seven seed, are only separated by five points.
Wear and tear becomes evident in this time of the year in MLS, as it did for FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal on the week of the team’s 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City on July 20. Pomykal has had a significant increase in his minutes, playing 1,258 minutes compared to just 265 in 2017 and 2018, not including his 2019 FIFA U20 World Cup where he went 90 minutes in four of the five matches.
After playing midweek against Sevilla in a 3-1 loss, Pomykal did not travel to Kansas City due to load management, a term popularized in the NBA after Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard took games off to be ready for the post-season and limit the effects on his body.
Pomykal subbed on in the team’s 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake on July 27 before traveling to Orlando and playing in the 2019 MLS All-Star Game, going 27 minutes in the 3-0 loss. Finally, he played 90 minutes in FCD’s 2-0 loss against Orlando, with the rest being important to get him ready for the last stretch,
“The coaching staff is very open,” Pomykal said. “We have a good relationship with all the staff. Nobody is intimidated. If anybody needs time, that’s on them and everyone knows their body’s differently. It’s important to be able to speak up because, sometimes are hesitant and if you have a lingering issue and it keeps getting worse and worse, it can impact your future. It’s important for guys to be open and honest about things like that and I think this year we’ve done really good job and we’ve kept guys really healthy for a majority of the season. You look at a lot of other teams who’ve had a lot of significant injuries, that’s hurt them. Our training staff, coaching, fitness coaches this year have done a really good job of managing our load.”
For a player like Matt Hedges, who has only missed one match in the 2019 season due to a suspension, the rest comes in different ways. While Hedges does not cover as much ground as a Pomykal and has played over 2000 minutes in each of his eight MLS seasons, a little recuperation is needed, but not in the way of missing matches.
“It was kind of a light week with the All-Star game because the training are not like [FC Dallas] intensity wise so it was almost kind of a rest,” Hedges said. “Besides the 45 minutes in the All-Star game, which was fun and it wasn’t too tough. It was a good week and I feel good.”
Head coach Luchi Gonzalez is working on managing his players’ fitness while attempting to push them. Dallas has had a lot more success on the injury front that it has had the previous seasons. In 2018, Dallas had four sports hernia injuries, keeping players out for many months as they recovered. Fullback John Nelson was out for an extended time with an abductor injury but the team has been on the cautious end of the spectrum, making sure players are receiving ample rest.
“That’s why our staff has done a great job in communicating with the players and getting a feel,” Gonzalez said. “Our physical department, our medical department have been communicating with us from the technical side and matching it. We just need to be aware and monitor but at the same time, push them out of their comfort zones because they need to be out of their comfort zones but make sure they get enough rest. We always try to give an off-day a week and give a reg-en day a week. Reading the group, reading the individuals, pushing them, but I think we’re in really good shape right now. I think we have good numbers, good depth and I think the energy is there and the mentality and openness is there.”
Rightback Reggie Cannon used his suspension to receive rest, although he admitted it was difficult watching his team fall to Orlando City. Now, with a rejuvenation, Cannon is raring to go for the last 10 matches of the season.
“It was a nice recuperation, a nice rest,” Cannon said. “Even then, watching the full game on TV and watching what my position looks like, it’s different. It gives me a different perspective with what needs to be done. It’s a lot different when you’re out there and obviously, I was disappointed to not be out there but it’s the game. That rest helped me get ready for this week and be prepared to fly against Minnesota because it’s going to be a long week and half with LA Galaxy in midweek and the next game on the weekend.
“It’s going to be very integral in this coming change but it was tough to watch my team out there loose. That game was just tough. We didn’t play well, we didn’t execute the concepts well but we still fight every day. The fight is never gone. We’re working on it in training.”