The pair of center backs started the season alternating the position alongside Matt Hedges in the middle of the Dallas back line, but went through a learning curve about each other when the captain went down with an injury in mid-April.
“Throughout the years, Walker and I have played together here and there, but we never really got a string of games together,” Loyd said. “We’re starting to get familiar with what the other guy likes to do – whether he likes to step or hold. I think once you build that relationship it goes a long way, especially being in the middle right there because the smallest movements make a huge difference.”
And the difference has shown. After a pair of tough road games in Vancouver and New York, the duo has bounced back over the last three weeks – allowing just three goals from the run of play over the last four games. Their success has come from their complimentary play styles.
At 6-foot-3, the physical Zimmerman has established himself as a top aerial threat this season – winning a league-high 80 percent of his aerial duels. Loyd has proven a shut-down defender on the ground, able to deal with the fastest forwards in the league. Both are among the league’s best defenders in 2016 – each in the top 10 in blocks-, clearances-, and interceptions-per-game.
“He’s a fast guy,” Zimmerman said. “He can cover the diagonal balls behind and those runs really well. I’m more of the guy that’s going to challenge the bigger forwards that we face in the league and get really physical with them, do some aerial battles with those guys.”
“[He’s] kind of similar to Matt,” Loyd added. “I can cover pace for a lot of guys in the league and they [Walker and Matt] match up well physically. I think having those two dynamics in the middle help us a lot because we’re going to get someone fast or someone big. Being able to have one guy that can match physically and one guy being able to cover or vice versa, it’s been helping a lot.”
Now, after missing six weeks, Hedges appears ready to return soon and Oscar Pareja once again has three top-level center backs at his disposal – all now comfortable paired with one another.
“As players, we all want to play as much as we can, but over the course of a long season you need guys that can step in and fill in at any possible moment – especially with coming up with Open Cup and Champions League,” Loyd said. “We have our sights set high and we want to win all three tournaments ideally, so I think having a three-man rotation will be in our favor in the long run.”