It's rare for young Americans to be given attacking roles in MLS.
Paxton Pomykal, who only turned 19 in December, should get that chance this season as he is expected to start for FC Dallas, which opens the 2019 MLS season against New England on Saturday.
Pomykal signed with FC Dallas when he was 16, but he played only sparingly (265 minutes) in his first two full seasons with the first team.
But with a new head coach, Luchi Gonzalez, and a new 4-3-3 formation, Pomykal has seized on the chance to play as one of two roaming midfielders in front of Ecuador international Carlos Gruezo, the No. 6.
Pomykal's big break came right after the 2018 season when he joined the U.S. U-20s and helped them win the Concacaf championship for their age group, beating Mexico, 2-0, in the final.
Pomykal was one of only two players who played in all eight games, and he assisted on both goals by Alex Mendez in the final to go along with three goals scored earlier in the tournament.
"U-20s was very good for me in the aspect of I didn't get very many minutes last year across the board before I went there," Pomykal said at this year's MLS Media Day, "so if was nice to play in every single game there. It was nice to showcase what I can do. That's why I had a blast. I didn't play very much over the year, so training every day can get a little gruesome if you're not getting minutes on the field."
Pomykal played as a wide player for the U-20s but he favors a more central role, ideally as a No. 10.
"Anywhere on the field, I'm good with," he added. "I prefer to play in the middle but with the national team over qualifiers I was playing the entire time on the wing and I had a blast doing that. But being on the field is good enough for me."
What has helped Pomykal is that Gonzalez, who was named FC Dallas head coach when Oscar Pareja left to go to Tijuana, was promoted from the FC Dallas academy.
"The easiest part 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. It's nice that Luchi already knows me, knows all the young guys and knows the FC Dallas family and philosophy."
Pomykal is one of nine FC Dallas academy graduates signed to first-team contracts for the 2019 season. Seven more academy products signed with North Texas SC, the new USL second team. He says he's not surprised so many young players are signing pro contracts, noting that every player that attended the U-20s' January camp was signed with an MLS or European team.
"We have a lot of talent at his age," he said. "Seven years ago, there weren't as many talented players in this age."
Pomykal is part of the a new generation of American players who are picking their path to the pros in their early teens.
"Realistically," he said, "when I was about 14 or 15, I thought this is what I want to do. Earlier, it was a dream. It became a little more of a reality when I started training with the first team."
2019 Roster (30 players):
Goalkeepers (3): Jesse Gonzalez, Jimmy Maurer, Kyle Zobeck.
Defenders (10): Bressan (Gremio/BRA), Reggie Cannon, Matt Hedges, Moises Hernandez, Ryan Hollingshead, Callum Montgomery (Univ. of Charlotte), John Nelson (Univ. of North Carolina), Marquinhos Pedroso, Bryan Reynolds, Reto Ziegler.
Midfielders (10): Bryan Acosta (Tenerife/ESP), Pablo Aranguiz, Michael Barrios, *Edwin Cerrillo (academy), Carlos Gruezo, Jacori Hayes, Santiago Mosquera, Paxton Pomykal, Thomas Roberts, Brandon Servania.
Forwards (7): Francis Atuahene, Dominique Badji, Cristian Colman, Jesus Ferreira, Zdenek Ondrasek (Wisla Krakow/POL), *Dante Sealy (academy), Ema Twumasi.
*2019 Homegrown signing.
Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire.