Loyd shines for Dallas in playoff debut

Rookie defender settles in after rough start in win vs. Salt Lake

FRISCO, Texas — Asking a rookie to start in the MLS Cup Playoffs can be daunting, especially if he’s asked to handle the responsibilities at right back. But FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman felt that Zach Loyd, the fifth overall pick in January’s SuperDraft, was more than up to the task.

With normal starter Heath Pearce out, the move was one of necessity. And after a shaky start, Hyndman had Loyd and Jackson, a fellow newcomer who started at center back, switch spots about 20 minutes in.

The tactical adjustment paid off. FCD’s back line tightened up for the final 70 minutes and didn’t allow another goal in their 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake to open their Western Conference semifinal series.

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“When we moved Jackson to the right side and brought Zach in, it became better for both players,” said Hyndman on Monday. “The distribution from Jackson was better and the man-to-man defending from Zach was better. I think it was a good tactical move from our part that got us the result.”

Looking back, the FCD gaffer admits he might have asked too much of Loyd to start out wide in the first place.

“Sometimes you ask players to do things they can’t do or they don’t feel as comfortable [doing],” said Hyndman. “We’re in a playoff game and he’s been playing center back for six to eight weeks and then, all of a sudden, you put him in at right back.

“That doesn’t mean he couldn’t [start at right back] once a year down the road, but I thought he had a very good performance once he went in the middle.”

Loyd hadn’t played on the right side since May 27 at Chicago, and needed a little time to adjust.

BUY: Tickets, Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas, Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

“I think I was a little rusty at the beginning, but as the game went on, I got more comfortable,” said Loyd. “But Jackson and I decided that we needed to make that switch. I think that was a good switch for both of us because we had been playing the opposite position, so it gave us some more comfort with where we were.”

Hyndman wasn’t the only one who thought that both rookies performed well after the switch. FCD captain Daniel Hernandez also offered rave reviews, Loyd’s in particular.

“I thought he did great,” Hernandez said. “I think all year, he’s done great. Whatever position he’s had to play and whenever his time has come to get on the field, he’s done it with a lot of confidence. …. Everybody has to be ready and Zach was a great example of that, stepping on the field for his first playoff game as a rookie and doing a great job.”

Even after a solid showing on Saturday, Loyd is keeping things simple when it comes to how he is approaching his preparation this week.

“I’m just going to stay mentally focused. We’re just going to go to Salt Lake and try to get three points,” he said. “We’re not going to sit back. We’re going to attack and try to get the goal. To come out and get a [win in the first leg] at home was big. Hopefully we can keep that attitude for this week, go into Salt Lake and get a result.”

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