Some things just take time. Paxton Pomykal knows that more than most.
The Texas-born midfielder became the 15th player signed as a homegrown by FC Dallas when he agreed to a professional deal in 2016, and from the moment the ink had dried fans were curious as to when they’d see the midfielder in action.
"I think the last two years have been a learning curve for me,” he said. “Especially sitting in the stands or on the side waiting patiently. I think patience is a big thing I learned, to wait for my opportunity," he said.
Pomykal made MLS debut in 2017, playing twice that season, before making another six appearances in 2018. In 2019 he already has seven games under his belt, with the catalyst for his emergence in the first team has been the arrival of Luchi Gonzalez.
Head coach Oscar Pareja departed the club in November last year, and in deciding upon his successor, FC Dallas chose then-academy director Gonzalez.
“The easiest part of about it is that I already know Luchi,” Pomykal said. “That helped a lot. It’s hard for a young kid to get a completely new coach that you don’t know. You spend two years trying to impress the same guy, then he leaves, and you have to do the same thing for the next guy.”
Pomykal received regular opportunities during pre-season and carried that over into the start of the league campaign. In just the second game of the season, he notched his first assist. He followed that up with a standout performance away to Real Salt Lake three weeks later during which he scored his first MLS goals.
By now, fans across the league were starting to notice the teenager’s qualities. Comparisons in football are rife, and Pomykal is no stranger to them. Spanish outlet Marca called him ‘the American Frenkie De Jong’ but such titles are dangerous for obvious reasons.
The man himself does not readily identify with individuals but instead references Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, and their team focused ethic when defining what the likes.
“I don’t like to be the center of attention when it comes to the game," Pomykal said. "I like to be apart of a 10 pass, one-touch goal instead of just a one-time screamer."
What is clear from Pomykal's exposure to the first team is his versatility. The teenager is comfortable out wide or centrally and has shown the ability to set the tempo as well as provide the final ball.
Eager to float around the field in an attempt to draw out defences and cause problems, his willingness to influence the game on both sides of the ball has also not gone unnoticed. At present, Pomykal leads the team in key passes per game (2.0 on average) and sits second for tackles (2.7 on average).
“He’s a player that is always checking his shoulder,” Gonzalez said. “He’s always checking the opposition. He’s checking his teammates. He’s aware of time and space before he’s receiving the ball. Then, when he receives it, he anticipates what his decision is going to be before he gets the ball. That helps him — either on the dribble, helps him to play one-touch, helps him to play two, helps him to use his body and potentially move one way then go another.”
The midfielder’s success is also in part down to Gonzalez’s system. Operating in a 4-3-3 formation, Pomykal often sits in front of Ecuador international Carlos Gruezo, the No. 6 and is encouraged to roam.
"We believe in a structure but within a structure, fluidity," FC Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez said. "Paxton models that as a person and as a player, and we're just happy to see him be adaptable and play a role to contribute."
It’s likely that Pomykal will showcase those talents to the U20 World Cup in Poland this summer. The tournament can often be a springboard for young players, but it is unlikely that the teenager would ever be accused of getting ahead of himself.
“Paxton is a mature young player that’s not acting like he’s made it in any way. He’s just trying to help the team, work hard and fulfill his role, and he’s doing it in a way that today led to goals," Gonzalez said.
January 2019 was an important moment for MLS, with several big-money deals seeing players such as Tyler Adams, Miguel Almiron and Alphonso Davies sign for clubs in Europe. Pomykal was forced to be patient for his opportunity to shine in the league, and if he keeps his form up, he could easily be the next man on that conveyor belt across the Atlantic. It just takes time.