Class in Session for FC Dallas’ Dutch Master Maarten Paes

The outstanding goalkeeper talks about the disappointment of a canceled Dutch Cup Final in 2020 and his hopes of getting another crack at glory with FC Dallas in this year’s U.S. Open Cup
By: Jonah Fontela
FC Dallas Keeper Maarten Paes during pre-match warmups
FC Dallas Keeper Maarten Paes during pre-match warmups

Maarten Paes has unfinished Cup business.

“It was the first time it ever happened – and a little bit of a disaster,” said the FC Dallas goalkeeper about reaching the Dutch Cup Final in 2020 with FC Utrecht, only to see the traditional April showpiece canceled due to the outbreak of Covid-19. “We beat Ajax in the Semis and, in Holland, the Cup winner also qualifies for Europe [Europa League]. “So we were devastated not to be able to fight for that trophy.”

That peculiar disappointment is front and center in Paes’ mind when he describes the disrupted year of 2020. But so is his sense of perspective and a refreshing tell-it-like-it-is Dutch frankness. “It was very tough for us as a group,” he said of missing out on the chance, as a wide-eyed 22-year-old, of hoisting the 126-year-old trophy. “But, really, the world had bigger problems at the time.”

With the pandemic now largely in the rearview, and his own career having taken him to the Great State of Texas and Major League Soccer, Paes has another chance to get his big hands around a domestic Cup. This time it’s the U.S. Open Cup trophy, a prize with special meaning at FC Dallas.

Maarten Paes with a fist in the air and ball in his hands during a match
Maarten Paes with a fist in the air and ball in his hands during a match
FC Dallas’ safe set of hands in league and Cup play – Maarten Paes

His motivation to lift a trophy that bears the name of the club’s former owner and icon, Lamar Hunt, is obvious to his teammates. The club’s fans, and anyone watching the 109th edition of the Open Cup closely, will have seen the absolute best of Paes in wins over Memphis 901 and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Masterclass Paes

“We all know what Maarten can do in goal, we’re talking big things,” said FC Dallas teammate Logan Farrington, who’s emergence from promising, young talent to reliable goal threat has helped spark the Texas side in this year’s tournament. “His quality really shows out there.”

Farrington may well have been talking about Paes in a larger sense, his outstanding play for FC Dallas in his three seasons at the club, but he was pointing specifically to the tense Round of 16 Open Cup contest in St Petersburg, Florida. It was against the USL Championship’s Tampa Bay Rowdies, from this country’s second division, and the big dogs from MLS were under heavy pressure early.

Maarten Paes celebrates with his arms in the air while playing for FC Utrecht
Maarten Paes celebrates with his arms in the air while playing for FC Utrecht
Paes was outstanding for FC Utrecht in the 2020 Dutch Cup Semifinal win over Ajax

“It was quite hot and the Rowdies were playing to their strengths,” the 26-year-old Paes said of a game in which the hometown underdogs were in control of possession and chances – and which required interventions aplenty from the Dallas goalkeeper. “All credit to them for the fight they put up.”

Paes is too humble, too much of the straight-shooting Dutchman, to say what the real difference on the day was. But his teammates know. “He [Paes] was incredible,” said Farrington, who scored the winner in the 2-1 victory. Incredible, yes. And busy too. Paes, with his quick-as-cat reflexes, made a career-high eight saves in the game.

His performance at Al Lang Stadium, steps from Tampa’s Bay, prompted all manner of puns and memes on social media: Masterklas Maarten Paes, Thou shall not Paes to name a few.

“We had to struggle to win,” said Paes, who knows the challenges of meeting lower-division teams in Cup play from his days with both Utrecht and hometown side NIC Nijmegen in his native Netherlands. “But we found a way to win, and that’s what counts.

“In the Cup, it only matters if you go through or not,” he said after standing on his head to make sure his side pushed on to the next big test. It’s a Quarterfinal for the two-time Open Cup Champions (1997 and 2016) on the road against four-time Open Cup Champions Sporting Kansas City.

At Home in Dallas

“When I was a kid there was a show called Dallas on TV, with the famous J.R. Ewing, and I thought that was what it was going to be like,” he chuckled, before getting serious about the place he’s found himself and where he’s “grown a lot on and off the pitch” to become one of the top netminders in Major League Soccer. “But the city is really a center of sports in America – the Rangers, the Mavs.”

Paes has also made it his business to learn the history of his new club, in the Open Cup and beyond. “It might not be as well known to Europeans, but the history here is very interesting to dive into,” said Paes, whose current playing home of Toyota Stadium also houses the National Soccer Hall of Fame and is home to our Open Cup’s original prize: The Dewar Cup. “The Open Cup is at the center of that history for us.”

“It’s a trophy that’s close to our hearts here at FC Dallas. The name Lamar Hunt, a founding father of MLS and this club, is inscribed on the U.S. Open Cup,” said Paes, ahead of the trip to Kansas City with a place in the Semifinals on the line.

“They [SKC] knocked us out of the Cup two years ago [in 2022] but I always enjoy playing there,” said Paes about Kansas City, which he calls a “real soccer city.” “Sure, they’re struggling in the league this year, but with players like Daneil Salloi and Johnny Russell, it’s always a big challenge.”

Both clubs have had wobbly seasons so far, to be fair. Sporting Kansas City, second-from-bottom in the MLS Western Conference, recently parted ways with their technical director Brian Bliss. FC Dallas are undergoing a revival after current coach Peter Luccin replaced Nico Estévez in June – with three points more than SKC (as of July 1st).

Paes dives for a save in goal during a match
Paes dives for a save in goal during a match
Paes has developed in the last two seasons into one of MLS’ best between the posts

“We’re bringing in some new elements,” said Paes, who knows the Open Cup represents both clubs’ best chance for silverware this year. “We’re getting more vertical and attacking more – playing out of the back and playing more attractive soccer.”

Dutch Cup, Open Cup…World Cup?

You get a sense that Paes’ brain is always working – he’s a man who likes to make a plan in addition to all the saves he can. And there’s another Cup out on the horizon that’s drawing a little bit of his attention. It’s the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted in the United States.

“The paperwork is underway and I hope that I can play in the September qualifiers,” he said of his desire to line up, not for his native Netherlands, but for faraway Indonesia – the huge archipelago in Southeast Asia where his grandmother was born. “I love to embrace certain challenges.”

Paes’ grandmother, born in East Java, passed away several months ago. But the goalkeeper sees a chance to have “a full circle moment” when the biggest soccer show on Earth rolls around two summers from now in the country he calls home. “The last conversation I had with her, I told her about my plan and it brought a big smile to her face.”

But it’s first-things-first for Paes, who’s not the kind to get distracted from the task at hand. He’s two wins away from a place in another domestic Cup Final – and hungry for a chance to fight for the prize.

“We’re in the Quarters and if we can win we’ll play our Semifinal at home,” he said, planning out his approach, calm and collected and with a keen eye on the outcomes. “This is massive for us, for this club to write history – to embrace the challenge and have a chance to win the whole thing.”

Fontela is editor-in-chief Follow him at @jonahfontela on X/Twitter.