CARSON, Calif. – US national team captain Carlos Bocanegra is not the answer. Neither is Jonathan Bornstein. Nor is Heath Pearce.
The question: Who should line up at left back for the Americans?
Many have tried to win the starting job at the most troublesome spot in Bob Bradley's formation, but no man has unequivocally earned the right. While Bocanegra, Bornstein and Pearce can all claims successes on the flank, their shortcomings jump out, too.
After Saturday night's 1-1 draw with Chile at the Home Depot Center, a new name joined the crowded field. Zach Loyd played 73 minutes, passing his first test with high marks.
"His ability to compete on plays in that part of the field I thought was excellent," Bradley said in a press conference immediately following match. "You see it [during the camp], but now it gets put to the test and it's great when it comes out during the game."
Despite the FC Dallas fullback's Man of the Match-winning performance against Chile, he won't challenge the three incumbents quite yet. The fifth pick of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft is still too raw. But the 23-year-old posted a strong showing against the South Americans, tending to his defensive duties and flying forward as well. (He did find himself out of position a couple times due to his eagerness to attack.) It was, if nothing else, an excellent sign for the future.
[inline_node:318230]Loyd sounded pleased with his debut.
"The first five, 10 minutes it's really fast," he said after the game. "It was my first cap. You're all excited.
"After that, you just get relaxed. Your teammates are always talking to you, giving you confidence and helping you along the way. I'm just thankful that I had the guys around me that I did tonight, and hopefully I'll just grow from there."
Two of those faces – Brek Shea and Dax McCarty – looked especially familiar. The trio spent last season leading FCD to MLS Cup and combined well against Chile. Loyd successfully overlapped with Shea on multiple occasions, while the central midfielder found his streaking fullback on a few runs as well. The play was the same; only the uniform – white, white, white instead of red and white – changed.
Before Loyd reached Major League Soccer, however, he spent hundreds of hours honing his skills on the half field at his childhood home. Every year, his parents would give him a few more lights. The area is finally fully lit.
He plans to repay mom and dad by gifting them the ball he received that was signed by every camp participant.
"I'll probably give it to my family like I do with most of my stuff," he said.
In the non-stop world of club and international soccer, Loyd will have a few days to savoir his debut, but then it's back to work. He wants to get on the field with his FCD teammates.
"I'm excited," he explained. "The [US] coaches gave me a lot of tips, a lot of things to work on so I'm going to take that back to my club and continue to work harder and hopefully get another opportunity and get back out here."
Loyd needs to study hard, but he may end up acing the left back exam.
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.
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