In a two-day span six months ago, everything changed for Victor Ulloa.
The first change was a professional one. On Dec. 12, he joined FC Cincinnati in a trade from FC Dallas. But the move was more than a routine one between two MLS clubs. For Ulloa, coming to Cincinnati meant leaving the only club he’d ever played for – in the city where he grew up.
That was the easy move, actually.
The next day, on Dec. 13, Ulloa became a father.
“My wife sometimes tells me that was the trigger, because he came early,” Ulloa joked earlier this season about the trade jump starting the birth of their son, Luca.
This past Thursday, Luca turned six months old. On Sunday, Ulloa celebrates Father’s Day as a dad for the first time. Of course, that also means he’s been in Cincinnati for six months, too.
In reality, that’s a short period of time. But for a player at a young club who’s transitioning into two new roles, it’s a small milestone on a meaningful weekend.
Getting to Cincinnati
Ulloa was synonymous with FC Dallas in the same way Corben Bone and Jimmy McLaughlin are with FC Cincinnati.
Ulloa didn’t play with FCD since their inaugural season, but he was at the club long enough to see it blossom in tandem with his career.
Born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, his family moved to the Dallas Metroplex when he was 5 years old. When he was old enough, he started playing in the FC Dallas Academy, and on July 30, 2010, he signed as the club’s second-ever Homegrown.
He excelled from there.
He played as a defensive midfielder but later played a more advanced box-to-box role similar to his current position at Cincinnati.
While in Dallas, he made 144 MLS regular-season appearances between 2011 and 2018. In 2014, when he was out of contract, he fought for a roster spot and became the first Homegrown in the club’s history to log 2,000 minutes in a season.
By the time he left the team following the 2018 season, he was FC Dallas’ longest-tenured player and the league’s longest-tenured Homegrown.
Homegrown growing into another home
“Everything was brand new to me with the move,” Ulloa said about coming to Cincinnati and moving away from his family for the first time. “You don’t really see many Homegrowns move within the league, so I knew I was going to be one of the first to do that.
“But I was one of the first Homegrowns to sign with Dallas, so I was ready to take that challenge.”
Yet before he could take that challenge, Ulloa and his family were still unsure when the trade would be announced, if at all.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “At that point, the most important thing was our baby, so that was the main focus.”
Once the deal finalized, moving to Cincinnati also meant moving his family, though.
When Ulloa first joined the Orange and Blue and reported to the team in January, his newborn was back in Texas.
While he had to adjust to being a father, he also had to adjust to being away from his son for the first time.
“It was tough because the labor wasn’t easy and I had to leave them behind in Dallas for a couple of weeks before I was able to see them again,” Ulloa said. “That was the troubling part. I saw my baby for a couple of weeks and then I had to leave.
“The good thing is we have a lot of family back home. Her parents and my parents have helped her out big time. They were a big help for me.”
The Mexico-born midfielder wasn’t the only player away from his family. For example, Roland Lamah – who also played with Ulloa at FC Dallas – was away from his children. Eventually, FC Cincinnati created an opening for Ulloa to go see Luca, his wife and family.
“I have no complaints.”
Before noting the player FC Cincinnati signed in Ulloa, it’s worth noting his exit from FC Dallas.
Considering his long tenure with his hometown club, that in itself proved his quality and dependability.
But just as the current 27-year-old was a Homegrown signing himself from Dallas’ Academy, there were also younger players fighting for minutes behind Ulloa. One of them – Paxton Pomykal – was the U.S. Under-20 National Team’s captain and defensive midfielder at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, which Ukraine won on Saturday.
“I had a great time in Dallas, obviously,” Ulloa said. “Growing up in Dallas and playing for my hometown, my home city, it was something special and it was an honor for me to be there so long.
“I felt like the move to Cincinnati was the right timing for me. We had a lot of guys behind me, following me and waiting for that opportunity and I’m glad they’re doing well. They were special years there that I had with them and I’ll cherish them forever.”
There’s a strong argument FC Cincinnati fans cherish Ulloa already.
Sixteen games into the club’s inaugural MLS campaign, he’s made 15 starts. He also played in the win last Wednesday over rivals Louisville City FC in the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup – on his six-month anniversary with Cincinnati.
Playing as both a holding midfielder and a box-to-box one, Ulloa’s proven his versatility to win the ball back as well as help create moving forward.
Recently, he’s been crucial for rookie Frankie Amaya’s explosion into the starting lineup as one of Cincinnati’s most exciting players. Together they’ve become regulars playing in front of Caleb Stanko – especially as Leo Bertone and Fatai Alashe have missed matches with hamstring injuries.
In an article published by MLSsoccer.com on June 10, columnist (and former FC Dallas player) Bobby Warshaw said Ulloa was FC Cincinnati’s best player through the first half of the season.
“Ulloa has been the most consistently steady, Warshaw wrote. “He’s been tidy in possession and smart with his positioning.”
Essentially, Ulloa is playing exactly how FC Cincinnati hoped he would when he joined from Dallas. But it’s also worth noting he’s playing with confidence, too.
When the Orange and Blue beat the Portland Timbers 3-0 in the MLS home opener on March 17, Ulloa’s family, including months-old Luca, was at the match.
That wasn’t Luca’s only match. Now, the family is together in their new home, and Ulloa is thriving both on and off the field.
Him sharing a picture of Luca after Cincinnati beat Louisville was just another reminder – just in time for his first Father’s Day.