Zach Loyd has done it before. When he came on in the 20th minute of FC Dallas’ Sunday match against Philadelphia for an injured Ugo Ihemelu, it wasn’t the first time this season that the FCD rookie had to come in for an injured teammate.
In a 1-1 draw against Toronto FC at BMO Field on July 24, Loyd was summoned near the hour mark for fellow center back George John. The big second-year defender had a gash in the back of his head after a nasty collision with a TFC player and had to leave the game.
On Sunday, Ihemelu’s injury was a bit more serious. The veteran center back suffered a concussion after a midair collision with the Union’s Kyle Nakazawa. Ihemelu returned for a few minutes, but after concussion symptoms appeared Loyd was called in to replace him.
So, with Ihemelu likely out for this weekend’s trip to RFK Stadium to face D.C. United, it looks as though Loyd will get his first start since May 2 at Chicago. That was when he started at right back for Heath Pearce, who had just returned from a stint with the U.S. national team.
“It is a possibility [that I will start], but it all depends on Ugo’s health,” Loyd said after practice on Monday. “I’m going to be with the mentality that I am going to play because I don’t want to have the mentality going in that I’m not going to play and then not be ready. If I get called up, I’ll be ready. At the same time, I’ll be thinking about Ugo and hope he gets healthy as quickly as possible.”
When head coach Schellas Hyndman drafted Loyd fifth overall in this January’s SuperDraft, he said he did so intending to play Loyd at right back. At North Carolina, the versatile defender played holding midfielder, outside back and also spent one season at center back for the Tar Heels.
So, while playing in the middle of the defense as a professional might be a relatively new experience, it’s a role the Oklahoma native knows quite well.
“I’d say I’m kind of more comfortable at center back because in college I played a full season there,” Loyd said. “I’m used to the role I have to play there and working with the other center backs. The outside back is my new position this year, so I’m kind of learning that as the season goes.”
Hyndman likes what the young rookie brings to the pitch, but he admits that Loyd remains a work in progress at center back.
“We haven’t really spent a lot of time with him as a center back,” the FCD manager said. “I don’t think he got beat on one header [in Sunday’s game]. The boy’s got a 32-inch vertical leap. He’s tough as nails.”
And even though Loyd has gone from being a starter to a bench player several times this year, the FCD gaffer has no reservations putting him in the first XI this weekend.
“He’s learning on the job like George John did last year,” Hyndman said. “He’s been a great draft for us. I think he’s doing fine. We don’t have issues putting him on the field. We know what he’s going to bring. He’s getting better every game.”
After getting his first taste of the great atmosphere at RFK during a 4-2 US Open Cup play-in game earlier this year, Loyd is excited about returning to the Nation’s Capital—except this time he wants to come away with a win.
“[I’m] looking forward to it and going up there and hopefully coming away with three points,” he said.