This article was originally written by Saad Yousuf and published at TheAthletic.com who has graciously given us permission to republish for you.
For FC Dallas, Victor Ulloa is a reliable presence and the pioneer of homegrown success. For the kids in Vickery Meadow, he’s a symbol of hope for a brighter future.
Ulloa is the longest-tenured player at FC Dallas – and the longest tenured homegrown player in Major League Soccer. He signed with the team on July 30, 2010. His stat sheet won’t jump off the page but FC Dallas president Dan Hunt labels him the “mainstay” on the team, logging nearly 9,000 minutes played since 2014.
The midfielder has contributed to the team’s success through the years, especially in 2016 when FC Dallas won the Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup. In the U.S. Open Cup semifinal match against L.A. Galaxy, Ulloa scored the game-winning goal in overtime to send FC Dallas to the championship, where they would defeat the New England Revolution. It came around the 10-year anniversary of Ulloa joining the FC Dallas Academy in 2006 before making his professional debut in October of 2010.
As grateful as Ulloa is to have a professional soccer career, he takes a great deal of pride in his journey.
Ulloa was born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. His family moved to the United States when he was five years old. Victor was the oldest of three children, and his family didn’t have a lot of breathing room financially.
“My parents weren’t the wealthiest people,” Ulloa said. “We lived paycheck to paycheck and they sacrificed a lot. A lot of my success is due to the sacrifices they made.”
Making sacrifices was necessary for Ulloa’s parents, Guillermina and Evaristo, in order to give him a chance at a soccer career. Despite the financial constraints, Ulloa’s parents made the extra effort to get him on soccer teams and take him to the practices and tournaments.
“I’ll never be able to thank them enough for everything they did for us,” Ulloa said. “They’re a big part of my success.”
The talent was evident from a young age, but pro soccer still seemed like a pipedream. “When you’re young, especially for me – I watched a lot of soccer with my dad – I dreamed of being a professional soccer player but I don’t think it was really a reality at that point,” Ulloa said. “I think we played soccer just because we loved the sport and it was a fun thing to do.”
Again, his parents’ influence intervened. They advised their son to dream big and to work hard and make sacrifices of his own, as they had done for him.
“I did all of the things that they told me,” Ulloa said. “As we started getting older and I came to campuses here in FC Dallas, I started realizing that the dream was attainable and that I was close to reaching my goal.
“That was the turning point; when I joined the academy. That’s when I really saw potential for being a soccer player.”
Before that, soccer was just an activity Ulloa engaged in at the apartment complexes in Vickery Meadow. It was there he made a friend three year his junior, FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, who lived in the same apartment complex.
“He’s like my brother,” Ulloa said. “I’ve known him since we were very, very young. I’m happy to see him be successful and happy to be playing on the same team as him [at FC Dallas]. It’s a special bond that we have and we’ll be able to tell our kids and grandchildren.”
For either one of them, let alone both, to be playing at this level isn’t something Gonzalez ever imagined.
“Coming from where we come from, you never thought we would get to this point,” Gonzalez said. “I think it was just trying to help our families. Our main motivation, I think that’s what it was. We knew we had to work hard to get where we wanted to get and to help our families.”
Once neighbors in the same apartment complex, Gonzalez and Ulloa are now roommates. Both serve as examples to the underprivileged kids from that area of what the destination can be, but it’s not just through a television set or reading about them online.
Earlier this month on June 5 , Ulloa went back to Vickery Meadow and was a guest speaker at a luncheon for Heart House Dallas, a local nonprofit that provides safety, education, and opportunity to refugee and underprivileged children.
Soudary Kittivong-Greenbaum, the director of external relations at Heart House, said targeting Ulloa specifically was important because of the roots he shares with many of the kids there.
“We knew he grew up in Vickery Meadow and his story,” Kittivong-Greenbaum said. “He came here when he was young, he had to learn the language, he had a lot of the same struggles as these kids, just adjusting to a new culture and a new city.” Right now, 100 percent of the kids living there are below the poverty level. Heart House hoped a few minutes in interacting with Ulloa would provide the kids the inspiration that they needed.
“To them, it was very special that he took time out,” Kittivong-Greenbaum said. “He made
his dream but he actually took time out of his training and schedule… I think it really left
an impression on everybody.”
Ulloa was slated to spend 45 minutes at the event, take a quick tour and meet with staff about the luncheon. He ended up spending around two hours there chatting with kids about life, autographing soccer balls and even playing soccer with the boys and girls.
Ulloa made his mark in the community, not just by being a local celebrity, but somebody who shared in the tough experiences. One elementary school girl found it interesting to share time with a professional soccer player. However, once Kittivong-Greenbaum told her that Ulloa had graduated from the same elementary school that he was in, her eye piped up and she became even more interested.
Ulloa says returning to his roots makes him proud of how far he’s been able to come. “It wasn’t easy growing up in Vickery Meadows,” Ulloa said. “But we made it happen.”
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