FRISCO, Texas– When forward Zdeněk Ondrášek signed for FC Dallas, fans were hoping he would be the solution to the team’s issues at the position.
For years, Dallas has struggled to find a true out-and-out forward. Maxi Urruti scored 12 goals in 2017 and another eight in 2018 but struggled to fit as a sole forward, being shipped to the Montreal Impact for allocation money in the offseason. It can be argued the last true No.9 FC Dallas had was Blas Perez, who scored 22 goals in two seasons from 2013 to 2014. Spending targeted allocation money on Ondrášek created high expectations for the Czech player.
Ondrášek’s chances in the 2019 season have been limited in a spot that has not been claimed yet by any player. Dallas does not have a double-digit scorer, with Jesús Ferreira and Dominique Badji tied for the team lead with six goals each. Ondrášek has played only 261 league minutes, struggling to make the field until recently with three straight substitute appearances. The transition to Major League Soccer hasn’t been easy: Ondrasek has made the 18 in 11 MLS matches and at times has dropped down to play with the club’s USL League One affiliate.
But he’s not giving up.
“In this situation here, I wouldn’t say I didn’t score for so long,” Ondrášek said. “I’d say I didn’t play for so long. I play some years of football so I’ve been there. When I was younger, I didn’t put my head down and I didn’t work extra. I didn’t do maybe what I was supposed to do, but through the years, you learn. You learn that the only way to get there and to play, score the goals and be happy, is hard work.
“I didn’t fly 10,000 kilometers, 7,000 miles, leave and change all my life, change my fiancée’s, my family’s life, just to come here for four months and quit and go home.”
Ondrášek’s stock is rising going into the Texas Derby match against the Houston Dynamo Sunday (8:30 p.m. ET, FS1). He opened his MLS goal-scoring account with a strike in the 59th minute, serving as a catalyst for FC Dallas’ three-goal comeback against Montreal last Saturday. It was a bittersweet moment for Ondrášek. Importantly, he led the team to rescue a point on the road, but it also his first goal for his new team, a stat he called “sad.”
While not contributing in the goal-scoring column yet, Ondrášek has provided an element of leadership in the locker room. His vibe around the team has always been positive, joking with his teammates and defending them at any costs. It should’ve been expected. In a 12-second video put out by the club before stepping foot in Dallas, the 30-year-old talks about how he is ready to fight for the club while surrounded by the snow in Poland.
“Especially here, it’s about respect to the others,” Ondrášek said. “It’s not my teammate’s fault that I don’t play, so why should I ruin their days and their trainings? They are great people, so I’m having fun and everything is easier with a smile, even though sometimes you have to shut your mouth and work hard.
“I’m a joker, I like fun, but the most important thing is I have respect for the guys and it’s not their fault that I don’t play, so why should I ruin their day with being angry and not talking to them? Nah, that’s not my style.”
Against Montreal, he stood up for teammate Michael Barrios after Barrios was shoved, getting in the face of Impact defender Daniel Lovitz late in the match. Ondrášek was carded — when he wasn’t even on the field — for arguing a call in the 2-1 victory over Seattle June 1. It’s an example of the teammate the player nicknamed “Cobra” (for his tattoo on his back) is. The moniker is fitting: Cobras are defensive in nature, hissing at potential predators, making it one of the most distinctive features for the snake.
Ondrášek’s personality also exemplifies another characteristic of a cobra: moving in silence. While not always on the field on game day where fans can see him, his teammates have noticed his work ethic during training, providing an example and a want to fight for the forward.
“We’re happy to have him here and not only on the field but off the field, midfielder Paxton Pomykal said. “He’s friends with everyone in the locker room and he’s just that dude that can get everybody going. I’m really happy for him, that he could come into the game with how hard with he’s working silently. You guys don’t really see it all the time but he’s that guy that’s working every single day. I’m really proud of him for getting that goal.”
Head coach Luchi Gonzalez has had difficult decisions to make. He knows Ondrášek wants to play week in and week out, but as a coach, he has a responsibility to put out his best 18.
“None of us are perfect,” Gonzalez said. “He’s been disappointed with some of our decisions. I’m not going to get all the decisions perfect. They’re based on things we’ve experienced and seen. He’s made some adjustments, and he’s helping. Before he helped in his training habits, respect for the team goals and now he’s actually able to do it on the field in the run of play.”
Gonzalez has taken note of these attributes from Ondrášek. Earning his way into playing, Ondrášek has provided a trait Gonzalez craves to see in his players: a fight for the badge.
“He’s shown it in training,” Gonzalez said. “I feel like he’s developed, and I know you could look at that and pick that apart in terms of the opportunities he had, how much he played last year, how much he played before. That’s in the past. I see a Cobra that’s very engaged to what it takes to help this team. He showed a firey personality standing up for his teammates in the game. We need some of that edge and chippiness to push us to fight for the jersey and push to win. He’s done a few small, subtle details that with his natural talent and his physique have earned him the opportunity to get on the field.”
Now, Ondrášek hopes to provide a more consistent venomous strike for a team desperate for goals late in the season. With seven matches to go, Cobra knows what the team needs to be as lethal as it was in the second half last weekend.
“We showed this season that we have the football players,” Ondrášek said. “We just have to do what we did in the second half against Montreal. The power, be more hungry, go for it and just smash the teams. If we combine these two things, then we will where we want to be.”