FRISCO, Texas — Four years ago, FC Dallas midfielder Victor Ulloa was on the verge of leaving the team for good.
Prior to head coach Oscar Pareja taking over in 2014, Ulloa’s contract ran out and was not renewed. Pareja gave Ulloa another chance, and he’s repaid his coach’s trust, becoming a vital part of the squad and providing something he didn’t have at the beginning of his career: leadership.
Many FCD players were frustrated after a difficult 3-0 defeat Sunday at the hands of Sporting Kansas City. Twenty-year-old right back Reggie Cannon wears his heart on his sleeve and was upset in the locker room after the match. Ulloa, 26, talked to him, helping him to quickly relax.
That type of leadership and calming presence was critical to help players brush off a big loss and focus on clinching a first-round playoff bye with a win Sunday in Colorado. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET, the same time all the other Decision Day matches begin.
“I think the experience gives me that,” Ulloa said when asked what makes him so calm. “I’ve been here for a long time and I’ve seen it happen. We’ve had highs; We’ve had lows. You learn from those experiences. I remember being that emotional. It’s normal for a human. It’s normal for soccer players, especially for a guy like Reggie that’s so competitive. At the same time, we need to keep that calmness. We need to not panic, and mentally, we need to stay strong as a group. So, I just try to implore that calmness and try to tell them that it’s going to be OK.”
Ulloa worked his way into the starting lineup after not playing the first four matches of the season. He’s started the last 18 matches. He’s someone on the field Pareja trusts.
But Pareja has believed in Ulloa for a very long time. Pareja was the academy director when Ulloa was signed as a homegrown in 2010.
“I can see him growing a lot,” Pareja said. “This is due to the competition and the continuity through the seasons. It’s good. Just having these bunch of players that we trust is great.
“It’s time for them to grow and be leaders, be the guys who always carry the team in the moments where the team needs you the most.”
From being a closer at times last season to being a starter now for a team entering the playoffs, Ulloa knows how to lead with his play and his actions. He doesn’t make the spectacular plays that garner praise and attention from fans, but he makes the smart ones. He’s a glue guy, someone who helps the locker room and helps with composure during the match. He’s a player key to FC Dallas as it approaches the most critical time of the year, when experience and veteran leadership is needed for the postseason, when anything can happen.
“Soccer always gives you another opportunity to fix many things,” Ulloa said. “It’s all sports, I guess. We always have a game to look forward to and just stay positive. Mentally, that’s the most important aspect of it, to stay mentally strong. We know that physically and talent-wise, we have it. We just gotta believe in ourselves and believe in our team — and, hopefully, everybody believes in us — and push for that playoff run and MLS Cup that we so much want.”