Olympics. World Cup Qualifying. MLS Cup.
Paxton Pomykal has a number of goals for 2020, but there is one that he deems more important than the rest: Staying healthy.
Pomykal is entering the upcoming season with FC Dallas nearly back to full health after dealing with multiple injuries in recent months, and is hoping to remain off the trainer’s table once he is completely healed. The 20-year-old midfielder had a hernia issue that required surgery in the fall and then this past January suffered an unrelated hip flexor strain while with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Clearly, it has not been an easy few months, but Pomykal is almost back and more than eager to return and stay on the field.
“It’s been a process and I’m definitely, definitely ready to be 100 percent and feel good,” Pomykal told SBI. “It’s been a longer process than I thought coming back from surgery, but at the end of the day it was something I needed to do and eventually we’re going to get there and feel 100 percent hopefully in the near future.”
Pomykal was unable to take part in full sessions during FC Dallas’ preseason because of the hip flexor strain, but it bodes well for the club that he may return in time for this weekend’s season opener. The talented youngster had a breakout season in 2019, and might have made an even bigger impact than he did had it not been for the hernia problems that hindered him during the second half of the campaign.
That is in the past, however. Pomykal’s sights are set firmly on the future, and he wants to apply the lessons that were learned last year to this season.
“I think it’s a lot of games, which was something I didn’t quite realize,” said Pomykal. “When I signed at a young age, I didn’t really play much, so the season goes by a lot quicker. When it slows down and you’re playing week in and week out, it’s a long season and my body had a few injuries towards the end of the season.
“I learned I had to hit the gym in the offseason and I’ve got to be stronger and not get those little tweaks and quirks and try to be healthy the rest of the year. Hopefully I can not have any injuries after this and then not have anything linger throughout the rest of the year.”
It is not just lifting that has Pomykal feeling “more ready” than last year. He has also been meditating and doing other mental exercises to take his mind off of the recovery process — a process that could continue into the season for the center midfielder.
“It has to happen in steps,” FC Dallas head coach Luchi Gonzalez told SBI recently. “We want to just take it one day at a time and make sure he has the support that he needs and the confidence that we want to instill in him. Just to get healthy at this point.
“Then from there, can he compete for the roster? Compete to make the lineup? To start? To play? Perform? Those are all steps.”
While Pomykal may still have some work to do, he has a very positive outlook on 2020. He believes both he and FC Dallas are poised to accomplish big things, and is dreaming of lifting an MLS Cup with his hometown team.
Pomykal, however, knows he has to take strides in his game in order to help FC Dallas do that against the likes of the Seattle Sounders and LAFC. The talented American that may move from last year’s playmaker role to a more withdrawn midfield spot is looking to record more goals and assists after finishing last season with just two and five respectively in 25 matches. He is also keen on getting better with the ball at his feet.
“I think in possession I need to be more involved this year,” said Pomykal. “Last year I played mostly the 10 and in the build I was a little bit higher up and I feel like getting around the ball and getting numbers around the ball and combining and going forward and not playing so negative. I feel like I played negative a little bit too much last year.
“…Cleaning up touches, things like that. I don’t really notice it but when your touch is clean and you clean things up, you combine, you’re engaged, your confident, and confidence is a massive thing. Those are a few things I’d like to improve, but get on the scoresheet and assist are definitely two aspects of my game I think I need to improve. I only had two goals last year, which is not good enough at the end of the day.”
He may not have piled up the scoresheet in 2019, but that apparently did not stop European clubs from expressing interest in Pomykal. Multiple teams across the old continent had reportedly started tracking Pomykal because of his tireless two-way play, but he committed the next few years of his career to FC Dallas by signing a new deal last fall.
Pomykal could have refrained from doing so — he admittedly has UEFA Champions League aspirations, after all — but felt it was the right decision to continue to grow in MLS with FC Dallas.
“I felt there’s a lot to prove for myself and with the team so I wasn’t ready to make a move or anything like that,” said Pomykal. “I’m happy here. I love the coaching staff, from Luchi all the way down. The front office has my back, they have faith in me, and they showed that by offering me a deal when I still had two years left on my contract. They put their faith in me, and I wanted to reciprocate that because it’s my hometown.
“I love the team, I love the club. My family and friends, everybody is around there, and I still feel there’s a lot of room to grow in this league for myself and with this team. I didn’t think that I was ready to make a transition like that. I think there’s still a lot more I need to do and grow as a player and get better before making a switch.”
For Pomykal, everything is about the here and now. Even when U.S. Men’s National Team talk comes up, be it the upcoming start of World Cup Qualifying or potential participation in the Olympics, Pomykal maintains that his focus is on the season with FC Dallas.
Again, for Pomykal moving past these recent injuries and staying on the field is the focus in 2020.
“My No. 1 priority right now,” said Pomykal, “is just to get healthy.”