FRISCO - It’s a story that has now played out twice in the young 2014 season.
We saw it in the first match of the year as Moises Hernandez made his first MLS start nearly four years after being signed to his initial Homegrown contract and now another Homegrown signed on the same day back in 2010, Victor Ulloa, has made his MLS starting debut.
Playing in front of “all his family,” the Wylie-native stepped into the starting defensive midfield role for FC Dallas on Saturday night and didn’t miss a beat playing 87 minutes in the thrilling 2-1 victory.
“It was amazing. I don’t have words to describe how happy I am,” said Ulloa. “It’s a big day for my family, my friends and all the people that have believed in me. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been patient for a while and I just thank God and thank the coach for having the confidence to believe in me.”
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Head coach Oscar Pareja praised Ulloa after the match and the stats back up the positive reviews. According to the OPTA chalkboard, Ulloa completed 45 of 50 passes attempted in the match, fourth-most on the team, and covered lots of space in an FC Dallas midfield that held Portland’s monster midfield trio of Will Johnson, Diego Valeri and Diego Chara largely silent on the evening.
“A very good game for [Victor]. We expected that he would take a little while to settle on the field and I thought probably after 15 minutes in the first half, he settled and started playing with confidence,” said Pareja. “His second half was great. He proved to himself and to many people that he can play this game. I'm very proud of Victor.”
Perhaps the most honest review of his play would come from the center backs who Ulloa protects at defensive midfield and Stephen Keel was equally positive about Ulloa’s debut.
“If you had come and watched the game [without knowing], you wouldn’t have believed it was his first start,” said Keel. “To come in the middle, the way he dropped in the hole and received balls under pressure playing and distributing, that’s a key role for us and I think he stepped in and did awesome…everything you want in that position was great so I don’t think we missed a beat in there.”
Victor’s story is about so much more than just tonight’s game, however. Having not had his contract renewed after the 2013 season, Ulloa received a lifeline back into the squad with Pareja inviting him to preseason as a trialist. Victor impressed throughout the six weeks, earning a roster spot that culminated in Saturday’s start, no doubt the best moment of the 22-year-old’s career to date.
“It’s crazy. Soccer has its ups and it’s downs,” said Ulloa. “In December, I didn’t know what was going to happen with me and like Oscar said, I’ve just worked so hard for this and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity.”