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Soccer

Paxton Pomykal Has Become FC Dallas’ Metronome

At age 23, the Lewisville native is driving the team's midfield.
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The 23-year-old is yet another homegrown success story. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Pull up the highlghts from the first month of FC Dallas’ season, and you’ll find big-time goals from Jesus Ferreira and Alan Velasco along with Maarten Paes making remarkable saves on the other end. Hidden in the middle has been the play of the team’s true talisman, Paxton Pomykal. 

For years, the Lewisville native and homegrown talent has represented the future of Dallas’ midfield. Finally, at 23 years old, he is becoming its present: a true force on both ends of the pitch. Consider this visual representation, tweeted by FC Dallas reporter Garrett Melcer using analytics from Driblab:

The chart says plenty. Pomykal is an aggressive player on both ends of the pitch. His pressure rate is through the roof. His gaudy tackling numbers are a box-to-box midfielder’s dream. Pomykal has never been afraid of contact, and his physicality on the pitch hasn’t gone anywhere. Pairing all that with his ability to maintain possession, and he’s become a player who can initiate his own side’s attack while ending the opposition’s. 

On offense, Pomykal’s passing has been strong. He doesn’t unleash line-breaking passes in the same fashion that midfield partner Sebastian Lletget does. Instead, he ushers the ball to its proper destination, which has been at the feet of Dallas’ attacking triad of Ferreira, Velasco, and Paul Arriola. Pomykal also has helped generate more scoring chances. This season, Pomykal’s shot-creating actions (SCAs) per 90 is up from his 2022 average, 2.63 to 2.37. He’s on pace for 76 SCAs, which would be his highest number since 2019. That’s more of a schematic change: coach Nico Estèvez is moving his midfielders farther up the field, in the hopes of getting more bodies closer on net. The increased box traffic allows for more potential shooters and more targets for the wide crosses. But it only works when a midfielder has the requisite skill set to lead the charge, and Pomykal does, even if he’s still waiting to open his 2023 account.

No wonder, then, that Sporting Kansas City’s strategy during the clubs’ March 18 match was to avoid Pomykal altogether. Play focused up the left side, giving Lletget and Velasco control for most of the game. It became clear KC had no interest in giving Pomykal opportunities in the match. The plan worked until it didn’t; Velasco scored the equalizer at 55 minutes off a magnificent assist from Lletget.

As good as Pomykal has been on offense, his defense has been sterling. Through four games, his tackles and high-pressure and dispossession rates have been well above average. (You can refer back to the graphic for more on that.) He has been a menace to opposing players, and never was that more evident during a home win against the LA Galaxy, in which Pomykal hounded Galaxy midfielder Riqui Puig. Puig is one of MLS’ brightest stars, a product of FC Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy who is widely expected to fetch a strong transfer fee when he someday returns to Europe. Pomykal was unfazed. Time and again, he took the ball off of Puig’s feet while inhibiting his ability to make positive passes and runs. 

Nowhere was that more evident than the 62nd minute, with Dallas up 2-1. The Galaxy got the ball off a turnover and began moving forward. Forward Dejan Jovelic received the ball around mid-pitch, then slid a ball back to Puig. Pomykal shifted from full sprint chasing the ball, pivoted off his back leg, then charged toward Puig. The sudden change of direction plus Pomykal’s aggression forced Puig to his right; after two steps, the Spaniard sent a pass out wide intended for Mark Delgado. Delago was caught off guard and hesitated, allowing Dallas left back Marco Farfan to intercept the ball easily and begin the counterattack. 

It was one moment in a match full of them, but it said everything: even the potential of reckoning with Pomykal’s physicality forced a premier player into a bad decision. 

This defensive prowess isn’t new. But, like his offense, Pomykal is taking that facet of his game to new heights. He’s on pace to rack up 102 tackles, which would blow away his previous high of 78 last season. He’s also on track to double his tackles won (tackles in which the tackler’s team wins possession) to 68 after 2022’s 39. The projected tackle number would place him fourth in all of MLS last season, while in tackles won he’d be second. MLS doesn’t hand out Defensive Player of the Year—they should; it’d be more comprehensive than Defender of the Year—but if they did, Pomykal would be an early favorite. 

But why is this all coming together now? Estèvez believes it comes down to mentality.

“This season I believe he started with more confidence,” he says. “He knew exactly what we asked him to do, was more proactive on the offensive side, and we can use him in different ways.”

Don’t underestimate that last bit. Coming up through Dallas’ academy, Pomykal played all over the midfield, including as a defensive midfielder. Under previous coach Luchi Gonzalez, Pomykal lined up as a winger, before ultimately returning to the center. Most midfielders lack that range—but, then again, most lack Pomykal’s blend of skills, too. He has a combination of traits that are effective from box to box, while his passing and chances-created metrics are good enough for playmaker territory. He’s a Swiss army knife of a player. 

That versatility is why, on a team featuring Ferreira and Velasco as Golden Boot hopefuls along with Paes profiling as a strong Goalkeeper of the Year candidate, Pomykal has a strong argument to be the squad’s MVP one month into the season. It’s also why, when Pomykal missed last Saturday’s tie against LAFC due to a hamstring injury, Dallas’ midfield was noticeably less effective. It wasn’t solely Pomykal’s absence that caused problems; Dallas was missing two other starters and received a 35th-minute red card, which put it down a man. But scoring chances were down, as was possession. On the other end, the reigning champs moved with ease and without fear, dominating the ball and passing unabated in the attacking half. 

All of this is remarkable enough, but what makes it special is Pomykal’s perseverance. He debuted six years ago, but his development was stunted by injuries, the pandemic, and coaching instability. At this rate, Pomykal will soon draw comparisons to two Dallas midfield legends: Leonel Alvarez and Oscar Pareja. Both were franchise talismans in their own ways—Pareja offensively, Alvarez defensively. Pomykal blends elements of each. He is finally realizing his potential and standing out among future European talents and national team members. Which means, if he keeps this up, Pomykal could become one of those future European talents and national team members in his own right.  

That should galvanize Dallas supporters while creating headaches for the opposition. Pomykal did that on his time. For a club looking to build off last season’s long-awaited playoff breakthrough, it couldn’t have come soon enough.

Author

Sam Hale
Sam Hale covers the Wings and FC Dallas for StrongSide. His relationship with Everton FC is forever "it's complicated." He's…

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