It’s hard to think a forward could be an unsung hero for any team let alone a championship winning team. They are often the first players to be heralded by fans for their side’s success because of their goal haul and the excitement that comes with watching them score.
En route to claiming the 2018 U20 Concacaf Championship, Ulysses Llanez and Alex Mendez rightfully garnered the majority of media attention from USYNT fans. Llanez put on a goal scoring and dribbling clinic throughout the group stage while his former LA Galaxy II teammate delivered a Golden Ball worthy tournament performance across eight matches. Together, the duo scored a combined 15 goals for Tab Ramos’ side, approximately one third of the goals the Baby Yanks put in the back of the net.
Yet, Paxton Pomykal’s quiet contribution of three goals and seven assists meant he played a part in a goal every 56.4 minutes for the United States. He provided a threat from his preferred position at right wing as well as the left wing and central midfield. The FC Dallas starlet embodies everything Tab Ramos appreciates in his players: determination, versatility, confidence, and inventiveness.
Though he never wore the armband, Pomykal lead by example on the pitch with his relentless pressing and persistent ingenuity on the ball. He did not provide the same flashy skill as Llanez, but he knew how to get by a defender with his movement and crafty close control on the dribble.
Puerto Rico learned first hand how dangerous Pomykal is on the ball. His first goal of the tournament saw him round both Puerto Rico’s goalkeeper and a defender before tucking the ball into the bottom corner. Three minutes into the second half, he powered through midfield to initiate the passing movement that lead to USA’s fourth goal. Nine minutes later, Pomykal drifted won a penalty after drifting inside to find space for a shot on his right foot. Pomykal came into this tournament confident from the jump, and it carried on until his team lifted the trophy.
The team’s general level of play seemed to dip against Trinidad & Tobago, but Pomykal refused to let his personal work rate fall below 100%. Now playing at the ten, Pomykal took the liberty of carrying the ball from midfield and spraying passes out to his forwards. His link-up play with Justin Rennicks was especially impressive as the two seamlessly alternated between the ten and the nine positions throughout the match.
In the United States’ 7-0 drubbing of Suriname, Pomykal continued to exhibit his brilliant link-up play. He and Jaylin Lindsey put together sensational one-two passing sequences and created textbook triangles with their midfielders on the right flank. One such triangle saw Dorsey, Lindsey, and Pomykal slice through Suriname with ease before the Dallas youngster slipped in a cross for an Akinola tap-in.
Pomykal’s performances improved during the U20 World Cup Qualifying phase of the tournament against Honduras and Costa Rica. He stepped up in a time where an injury forced Llanez out of the starting lineup and the Unite States were in need of a consistent, creative outlet from the wide position.
Los Ticos were an interesting challenge for Pomykal as they targeted the forward every time he touched the ball. It was the ultimate sign of respect from his opponents, but their brutal challenges failed to prevent Pomykal from tearing their defensive lines apart. The first 21 minutes of the second half saw him hacked down four times by teams of two or three Costa Ricans at a time. It was a test of patience, but the match saw the youngster drop into midfield to find the ball and stamp his authority on the match.
Against Honduras, Pomykal was more selfish with the ball. Whenever Pomykal found time on the ball, he either put his head down and dribbled at their defense or lobbed hopeful long balls at Sebastian Soto and Ayo Akinola. Los Catrachos were just too well organized on the night, though, and Pomykal’s selfishness manifested nothing of significance. It was not the prettiest display from the winger but he showed no fear in trying to grab a match by the reigns and make something happen for his side.
At last, Pomykal and the Baby Yanks had reached the U20 Concacaf Championship Final where they would face archrivals Mexico. By the end of the match, Alex Mendez had claimed the tournament Golden Ball for his brace in the final and his overall excellence across the eight matches, but Pomykal’s performance on the night was just as deserving of the award.
The final asked more of Pomykal defensively than any match prior to it. Diego Lainez flustered Matt Real and Brandon Servania for the entire 90 minutes, but the forward’s defensive contributions helped in slowing down his Mexican counterpart. Lainez and Pomykal exchanged fouls throughout the 90 minutes in recognition of each other’s importance to the functionality of their sides’ offenses.
Pomykal finally caught a break in the seventeenth minute when his signature stepovers provided him with enough space to pull a pass back for Mendez at the top of the box. His teammate made no mistake in firing his shot into the bottom corner to open the scoring for the United States. The play was peak Pomykal as he once again showcased his cool, calm, and collected ball control inside the box before instigated the killer blow.
His second assist, just five minutes after the restart, was arguably even more impressive. He picked up the ball at the halfway line and blew past three Mexican defenders on hi sway to the top of the box. A fortunate bounce found the feet of Mendez, but the move ended with the familiar sight of a one-two passing sequence ending with Mendez nutmegging Mexico’s goalkeeper for his second goal. The spotlight shined down on Mendez, but the praise belongs almost entirely to Pomykal.
As the flood lights turn off and the squad splits to return to their club football responsibilities, Pomykal will return to Dallas with a fresh breath of confidence. A title winning run at the U20 Concacaf Championship was the best possible way to further convince the FC Dallas franchise that he is ready to make the next step in his professional career.
In the three years that he has been under contract with FC Dallas, Pomykal has only managed 450 minutes across 12 appearances. He is yet to directly contribute to a goal or assist in a competitive match for Dallas, but 2019 may be the year of Paxton Pomykal.
Oscar Pareja and the organization have been high on Pomykal’s potential from the jump, and he is giving them every reason as to why he needs to be in the match day squad consistently next season. Tab Ramos will have recognized Pomykal’s vitality to his U20 squad and will probably be one of the first names on the final roster going to Poland. The only thing now is to prove his worth at the senior club level for his hometown club.