FRISCO, Texas – FC Dallas’ midfield was given a boost this week with the early return of Homegrown Thomas Roberts from his loan to SK Austria Klagenfurt.
The 20-year-old spent nearly 10 months with the Austrian Bundesliga side, making 11 appearances and registering one assist. Roberts admits he wishes he’d seen the field more but feels the overall experience was hugely positive.
“It was an amazing experience with the club,” Roberts said. “We just finished top six. And when I first came they had just got promoted to the first division. So, as a first-year team, it was a really big deal and we didn’t have to fight for relegation. We had a chance to fight for the Europa League and Conference League. It was completely different than what than what I've ever experienced in my life.
“The team did a really good job of integrating me. I had no problems and I think that's why also our team was so successful, we were all so close with team bonding. I’d never experienced something like that. I've made great friends over there that I'll have for the rest of my life.”
Roberts’ loan – like most player loans – was designed to expedite his development by taking him out of his comfort zone. The trick worked as Roberts believes he returned with a stronger mentality after his time in southern Austria.
“They pushed us so hard in training, like to the point where you think you're gonna die and you just keep going. So, I think my mental strength has improved tremendously. I think in the past that I would have just been like, ‘what is this?’ but now I feel like I can train as hard as I can all the time with no issues.”
FC Dallas hopes Roberts can follow in the footsteps of fellow Homegrown midfielder Brandon Servania. Like Roberts, Servania played in the Austrian Bundesliga while on loan with SKN St. Pölten (he also made exactly 11 appearances, coincidentally). Since returning to Dallas, Servania has grown from fringe starter or substitute to one of FCD’s most important midfielders and started the first eight games of the 2022 season.
The FC Dallas team Roberts returns to is very different from the one he left back in July of 2021. For one, there’s a new man in charge as Nico Estévez filled the head coaching vacancy during the MLS offseason. And that could be to Roberts’ benefit. The pair first met in 2018 when Estévez was working as a guest coach with the U.S. Men’s National Team youth program during his years as Columbus Crew’s academy director. Roberts impressed during their brief time together and Estévez remains an admirer of the creative midfielder.
“Thomas is a great player in between lines,” Estévez said. “He plays as an attacking mid and understands space really well. He has great feet and has a very good last pass. He needs to keep growing on the defensive side and keep improving his positioning. It’ll take a little bit but he has the right profile and mentality. Now, we have a stretch with lots of games and he’ll be ready when we need him.”
Roberts, too, is hopefully he can make an impact sooner rather than later. With nearly three years since his last MLS appearance, the Arkansas native is keen to take the field in FC Dallas colors once again.
“I'm ready to play. For the past two years, I've just been kind of grinding. I feel like I should have probably played earlier but, you know, it is what it is. I just have to keep working but I really want to make my way into this team and start playing a little bit here and there and then see what I can do.”