FC Dallas’ excellent season hit a new high on Tuesday, when the team defeated the New England Revolution 4-2 in the US Open Cup final to win the club’s first trophy in 19 years, ending the longest drought in MLS.
The club remained in the headlines on Thursday, when they announced the signing of Guatemalan legend (and perhaps my favorite MLS pest of all-time) Carlos Ruiz hours before the roster freeze deadline.
Ruiz, who turned 37 on Thursday and has family and a home in the Dallas area, is one of the all-time leading scorers in MLS. He’s scored 88 goals in 182 career regular season appearances in parts of nine seasons in the league, with 31 of those strikes coming from 2005-2007 with FCD.
Signing him is a low-risk, moderately high-reward move for Dallas, who currently hold a four point lead in the Supporters’ Shield standings and have a realistic – if difficult – shot at claiming the first treble in MLS history.
Dallas think that Ruiz, who FCD technical director Fernando Clavijo told me earlier this week is only signed for the remainder of 2016, will add some veteran know-how to a young locker room. He’ll serve as depth – and potentially steal a few starts – behind forward Maxi Urruti as the club juggle the their regular season schedule, two remaining CONCACAF Champions League group stage contests and move on into the playoffs.
Head coach Oscar Pareja is familiar, and presumably comfortable, with “El Pescadito,” having played with him on Dallas in 2005. Ruiz also appears to be in solid shape despite not playing for a club since leaving Guatemalan side Municipal in May, scoring seven goals – including five against St. Vincent and the Grenadines – in a pair of World Cup qualifiers earlier this month.
“This is the type of player that he doesn’t want to make a fool of himself,” Clavijo said. “He knows he has a reputation and he knows, however amount of minutes that he plays, he has to do well. So he’s excited, really excited and we are excited to have him, too.”
Ruiz isn’t the only notable CONCACAF international that Dallas were interested in signing this summer. Clavijo told me that the club looked into adding Canadian international Junior Hoilett after Fabian Castillo moved to Turkey in August, but that talks never progressed with the 26-year-old, who left English side Queens Park Rangers after last season and is currently without a club.
While Clavijo is pleased about the Ruiz signing, he’s far more excited about a less-publicized addition Dallas made last week. FCD signed 16-year-old midfielder Paxton Pomykal as the 15th Homegrown player in club history last Thursday, weeks after they lost academy product and US youth international Weston McKennie to German club Schalke.
A US U-18 international, Pomykal split the 2015-16 academy season between FCD’s U-16s and U-18s, playing a major role for both teams as each won US Soccer Development Academy national titles earlier this summer.
It’ll likely take a bit of time for Pomykal to contribute in MLS, but that isn’t stopping Clavijo from comparing him to one of FCD’s biggest stars.
“He’s very young, [but] we look at him as a replacement for Mauro Diaz,” Clavijo said. “And when I say Mauro Diaz, I put him in a very high pedestal to emulate, but he has that quality. He’s very good on the ball, he’s very technical.”
Clavijo said he thinks that Pomykal is better technically than fellow FCD Homegrowns Kellyn Acosta or Victor Ulloa were at the same age, though he admitted the 5-foot-7, 145 pound academy signing is a bit behind where Acosta and Ulloa were physically at that same stage.
Landing Pomykal eased some of Clavijo’s disappointment about McKennie’s departure, as well. Apart from saying that he didn’t think it came down to a financial offer, Clavijo was at a bit of a loss to explain why McKennie opted to sign for Schalke over FCD, calling it a “strange kind of deal.” While he didn’t offer the exact circumstances surrounding the US U-18 captain’s departure, he made clear that he felt stung by losing out on the talented midfielder, who spent nine years in FCD's excellent youth system.
“We’re disappointed, of course,” Clavijo said. “I think that we need to do better, we need to be able to secure those kids here. We’re very disappointed. Personally, myself, I’m very disappointed, but I wish him nothing but the best. It’s a good kid, it’s a good player and I hope he really fulfills his dream.”
For now, Clavijo is focused on another dream: the Open Cup, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup treble. FC Dallas will resume their quest on Saturday, when they take on fellow Shield contenders NYCFC in a huge match at Yankee Stadium (7 pm ET; MLS LIVE).