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Scratching the Chalkboard: Stick Paxton into our veins

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The success or failure of FC Dallas in 2019 rests on Paxton’s shoulders

MLS: LA Galaxy at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In last week’s chalkboard, I highlighted the fact this team needed to create more chances and to do so, would need Paxton Pomykal inserted into the starting lineup immediately. Despite having a strong pre-season, Pomykal was placed on the bench last weekend as Luchi Gonzalez felt that newcomer Bryan Acosta needed a little more protection defensively and opted for Jacori Hayes.

Hayes suffered a hamstring injury and was not available for selection, so that paved a path for Pomykal to start. Regardless of whether that expedited the process of getting Paxton out there or not, you can tell immediately that Pomykal took those notes to heart (more on that below).

I realize that it’s only two games in, and Pomykal is just 19 years of age, but based on the structure of the team and the system that Gonzalez is employing, I am making my season prediction that Paxton Pomykal will be the team’s MVP - in the sense that FC Dallas can finish either first or tenth in the West entirely on how Pomykal develops and plays this season.

Pomykal can ball (both ways)

Is he a #10? An #8? An inverted winger? A secondary striker? Honestly, I don’t know. And I don’t think anybody besides Paxton knows either. What we do know, is that he needs to be on the ball and on it often. He doesn’t possess the same skill set as say Mauro Diaz, but he is currently the only player on this roster who simply knows how to make a play and to create something out of nothing.

Pomykal’s passing chart vs LA (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass. Blue - assist.)

The chart shows one of the best parts of Pomykal’s game: finding space to draw defenses out of shape. The floating all across the pitch makes Pomykal pretty difficult to track. I spotted a few instances where Pomykal drifted into the left back spot while Ryan Hollingshead and Marquinhos Pedroso had pushed forward, and it left LA’s Joe Coronoa and Sebastian Lletget looking over their shoulders more frequently than usual to find where Pomykal and hidden himself. That split second to check their shoulders makes a huge difference in defensive positioning, and can be all the separates a team from a goal scoring opportunity and cycling the ball back to the defenders.

Even better than Pomykal off the ball and finding spaces, is what he does when the ball does find his feet.

Bryan Acosta’s volley is pure filth, but it doesn’t happen without Pomykal first reading where the ball is going and reacting quickly to a heavy touch and intercepting the ball. It’s small reads and movements like this that will separate Dallas from playoff contender to MLS Cup contender.

Remember when I mentioned that Gonzalez opted for Hayes because of his defense? Don’t think for a second that Pomykal didn’t take notes and immediately took it upon himself to improve his game to force himself into the starting lineup conversation.

Pomykal’s defensive actions vs LA (Orange - recovery. Green - successful tackle. Blue - interception. Purple - clearance.)

It’s not a lot of defensive actions, but remember Pomykal was essentially playing as an offensive facilitator, and the team held 64% of possession. But Paxton’s best play was this sequence below.

After misplaying/misreading Barrios’ run, Pomykal immediately recognized that LA were about to exploit the fact that he had overloaded the right side. Rather than just taking a casual stroll back into position and letting his midfielders cover for him (which is what teammates do), Pomykal took it upon himself to not only run back into position before he was taken out of play but also to halt LA’s progress.

You’d probably expect this kind of play in the 20th minute, but certainly not in the 87th when you’re up 2-0. Bobby Rhine was known for making these kind of hustling runs, and Pomykal is showing again why he’s earned the right to wear Rhine’s legendary #19 number.

It’s a lot to put the fortunes of a club on the shoulders of a teenager, but with the way I see it, Pomykal will be the difference between a successful and a poor season for Luchi Gonzalez’ first season as head coach.

Keep Hollingshead in the starting lineup

I can’t close this piece without mentioning how Hollingshead’s stock has risen from the first two matches. I’ve campaigned that Ryan should be called into a USMNT camp as a leftback for years, and while that may never happen, I still believe he can play at the international level.

Hollingshead passing chart vs LA (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

Hollingshead’s versatility to play just about anywhere on the field makes him a huge asset. There’s practically no dip in performance whether he plays on the left or the right, as he seamlessly provided the team with width on both flanks on Saturday afternoon.

Ryan sliding in DMs like a boss

Then of course, there was this perfectly timed slide tackle that not only ended the LA attack but quickly spurred a counter on the other end in a mere few seconds. Hollingshead doesn’t go to ground often, but when he does, he makes sure you end up flat on your face with the ref affirming that it was indeed a clean tackle.