FRISCO, Texas — Since FC Dallas promoted Luchi Gonzalez from academy director to head coach, talk of “playing the kids” at Toyota Stadium has gathered pace. With an average age under 24, and seven of the roster having played under Gonzalez in the academy, it's easy to see why.
"The way I view it, every position is a competitive position," said Gonzalez at FCD’s preseason training session on Tuesday. "I don't view this roster as just 11 players. It's 30 lines and the addition of a second team [new USL League One side North Texas SC]. We have young players who might play second team and then first team or vice versa."
Homegrown playmaker Paxton Pomykal often got lost in the shuffle last season. He often found himself the 19th man for Dallas’ gameday roster, which meant he didn't see much MLS action but was considered too valuable to send out on loan to USL. The 19-year-old is hoping to make an impact in 2019 and will firmly grasp an opportunity wherever it comes at Toyota Stadium.
"Honestly, I'm optimistic," said Pomykal. "We haven't had the conversation on where I'm going to be on the field, but I'm sure that I need to be versatile and be able to play multiple positions. There's guys on the team that are very talented, there's injuries as well, so I need to be able to play the [No.] 10, the left [flank], the right, wherever he needs me to be."
The team's youngest professionals, 17-year-olds Bryan Reynolds and Thomas Roberts, are both hoping to debut in 2019. Roberts did not take a place on the active roster after his midseason signing but is considered the team's strongest prospect as an attacking midfielder. Reynolds has transitioned from striker to winger, and now fellow Homegrown Reggie Cannon's understudy at right back.
"They're here, they're competing from day one," said Gonzalez. "Again, we have a roster with great veteran-ship and experience, and we have a roster with some young players that don't have experience. We have a staff that's in the same position, so we're going to embrace this position of learning and taking advantage of opportunities."
With Tesho Akindele traded to Orlando City and Cristian Colman out for the season, 18-year-old HGP Jesus Ferreira looks set to pick up minutes off the bench as back up to new signing Zdenek Ondrasek. The son of 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira spent much of 2018 on loan at USL Championship side Tulsa Roughnecks alongside Brandon Servania. Gonzalez favors a box-to-box option in his midfield and Servania appears to be the natural second choice behind new Honduran Designated Player Bryan Acosta.
There is certainly momentum behind FC Dallas' younger players getting opportunities following the departures of senior players such as Maynor Figueroa and Roland Lamah. It may, however, be premature to declare a youth movement at this stage.
Only Pablo Aranguiz, the 21-year-old Chilean signed with Targeted Allocation Money last summer, appears likely to join Homegrowns Jesse Gonzalez and Cannon as regular starters. Regardless, the new head coach has impressed on his players that every spot is up for grabs, something that clearly resonates with Pomykal.
"I think it's something to look forward to, but at the same time nothing is given," said Pomykal of Luchi Gonzalez. "Everybody here has the opportunity with a new coach and a new face. We're all given the same opportunity and we all have to make the most of it, so I don't think a youth movement is something we should highlight. I just need to compete with the youth and everybody else on the team for my playing time."