Paxton Pomykal's talent has never been in question, but coming off an injury-shortened 2020, the 21-year-old FC Dallas homegrown product recognizes that being available is the first step to being able to maximize that ability.
Pomykal was limited to just five appearances and 150 minutes last year, ultimately undergoing groin surgery that cost him the chance to build on a breakout 2019 that saw him emerge as an MLS All-Star. Coming off a 21-minute cameo as a second-half substitute in FC Dallas' 0-0 season-opening draw against the Colorado Rapids, Pomykal said he's not quite fit enough to be unleashed at full capacity, but that he's slowly but surely progressing toward that level.
"My fitness, I'm feeling good," Pomykal told reporters on a video call this week. "Obviously, I had a couple setbacks, scar tissue breakups in preseason, so I don't think I'm 100 percent, 90-minute fit like the rest of the guys, but I'm definitely ready to come in games right now and make a difference, so whether that be a half or 30 minutes, and hopefully in the next 2-3 weeks I can build that base and start to be able to go 90."
For now, that probably means continuing his role as a super-sub when Dallas head to California to take on the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday (3:30 pm ET | Univision, TUDN, Twitter). But it's a role that Pomykal said he feels matches his skillset well, even if it's a temporary arrangement while he rebuilds his full fitness.
HIGHLIGHTS: FC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids | April 17, 2021
"I don't think this is a permanent situation for myself, nor do I want it to be," Pomykal said. "I think over the next maybe week or two even, maybe that could potentially change once I get full volume in training, which I have been in the last two to three weeks, it just takes time to build up to 90 minutes. But in the last game for example my role was to come off the bench, bring a spark, bring energy, connect passes and play as one of the two in the midfield in that formation and be a playmaker and link."
"I thought I played OK. Not my best, but obviously me being back on the field kind of overshadowed the way I played, and overall I was happy just being able to get back in the stadium in front of the fans."
That 2019 season is still the only year of Pomykal's career where he's played more than 150 minutes, thanks in large part to a series of nagging injuries. With that in mind, he said the biggest personal goal he has this year, more than setting any sort of statistical benchmarks, is simply being available for head coach Luchi Gonzalez every game.
If he can do that, Pomykal said he trusts that the natural ability that led to his initial ascent into the conversation as one of the league's best young prospects will take over.
"I think stay healthy, first and foremost," he said. "That's kind of a given, but in all seriousness that's what I'm focusing on. Not necessarily just picking up nicks and nacks, but being available for games and not sitting out too many games. My goal is to be as available as possible for Luchi and the guys, and when I get in I know I can do what I do and once the opportunities are there I'll take advantage of them, but first and foremost my body needs to be there so I can have those opportunities."