FRISCO, Texas – FC Dallas’ opportunity this weekend to win their first Supporters’ Shield has been attributed to a variety of factors.
Mauro Diaz is back, healthy and piloting the team’s attack. Jesse Gonzalez has matured before the team’s eyes and is notching clean sheet after clean sheet. Michael Barrios has found his stride opposite Fabian Castillo to provide a devastating 1-2 punch on the flanks.
But one name that often gets lost in the fray is defender Zach Loyd, the longest-tenured player for FC Dallas.
“I think he’s one of the most underrated guys in MLS,” defender Ryan Hollingshead told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s a guy that can help out any team. He should be on the national team for sure. He’s that type of caliber.”
While Gonzalez gets much of the praise for the club’s three straight clean sheets, it was Loyd who almost singlehandedly kept Dallas from falling into a hole against the Vancouver Whitecaps last Wednesday at Toyota Stadium. Loyd had several clearances in his own third, including two on the goal line, that kept the momentum swung in the home team’s favor.
While the game was arguably his best of the season, Loyd chose not to prop his game up onto a pedestal.
“I’m not sure,” Loyd said when asked if it was his best game of the season. “Anytime we get a shutout I’m happy with the backline. I don’t really grade personal performances that much. I’m more about the team performance.”
His teammates, however, didn’t shy away from grading the 28-year-old.
“He’s great,” Gonzalez told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s a hard worker and everything. He works his butt off on the field. He’s come up big for us.”
Added fellow defender Matt Hedges: “There’s not enough words I can use to describe how he plays.”
Head coach Oscar Pareja echoed his team’s sentiments and noticed how critical Loyd’s recent performances have been to the team’s recent success, especially considering a couple of rough patches earlier in the season for Loyd.
But like the defender, Pareja made sure to credit the unit as a whole.
“The way they are defending the crosses, the way they are getting there with their marks and the responsibility they have, they are important," Pareja said.
Loyd ended up sitting out the team's most recent game against Real Salt Lake due to lingering groin and hamstring problems that have come and gone throughout the season. He said it was a decision the coach’s made to preserve him for the final push toward competing for the Shield and the MLS Cup.
He is also one of two players on the Dallas roster that contributed to the team’s 2010 MLS Cup campaign, where they fell just short of finishing their season with a championship. Having the experience of enduring a deep playoff run has helped Loyd evaluate the team’s progress from year to year, especially considering how much more experienced he is than many of his young teammates.
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That said, he thinks year two of the Pareja era is in better form entering the playoffs than year one.
“I think last year, Oscar came in, we had a lot of new pieces, we were really trying to find our identity. I feel we were throughout the season,” Loyd said. “I think this year, we came in knowing how we wanted to play. So I think we’ve progressed a lot more than last year, especially at this time [of the season].”
Injuries aside, the club expects to have him back soon, which will be a warm welcome to those who share the backline with him.
“He’s unreal. I love that guy. He’s so freaking good,” Hollingshead said. “The amount of times that he saves us or comes sliding through, we’re like ‘Where did he come from?’ He’s a freaking right back and he’s on my left side clearing the ball out for me. I’m like, ‘Thanks Zach, I’ll pay you back later.’