FC Dallas fans in attendance at FC Dallas Stadium or those watching on the tube got a treat on Saturday night against Portland when 20-year-old midfielder Bryan Leyva, the first player FCD signed out of their development academy, got his first MLS start with Fabian Castillo out with a knee contusion.
Leyva did not disappoint even though he is not normally a flank player. The talented youngster got up and down the right side with ease and in the 22nd minute got a shot on the Timbers goal that was saved by Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins. Leyva's teammate Blas Perez was ready to pounce on the rebound, giving Dallas a 1-0 lead.
However, just before halftime, FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman noticed several disturbing trends in the match as it headed to the break and took Leyva off in favor of George John. Even though Leyva’s first start lasted just 45 minutes, his coach still raved about his performance.
“I thought Bryan played very well. This was the first time he started for us. He’s been working awfully hard and sometimes opportunities come in different ways,” Hyndman said. “This was an opportunity because we lost Brek and we lost Castillo. And I thought it would be good to give him a chance to play in front of his home crowd and I thought he did a good job.”
While there were plenty of highlights for the young midfielder, there are still plenty of areas where his game still has some rough edges things which his head coach feels will work themselves out over time.
“The biggest minus is probably just the lack of experience, which you would anticipate. With the ball, he’s always been very productive. Without the ball, he’s not been as reliable on both sides of the ball,” Hyndman said. “Now he’s making conscientious adjustments and improvements, so it’s a little bit different when you’ve been playing in the academy leagues and get away with walking back or not being in position. Here it costs you games. But he’ll get more opportunities and I’m sure he’ll continue to work on that.”
As last week progressed and Castillo did not train, speculation began about who would start in his place on the right flank. The logical first choice was Andrew Wiedeman because he played there during preseason, performing well against college competition but not nearly as well against higher-caliber foes during FCD’s weeklong stay in Florida.
However, Hyndman used last week’s Reserve League opener with Real Salt Lake, a game the Dallas reserves won 3-1, as his ultimate determining factor in who would get the nod in place of Castillo. Leyva had a goal in the win over RSL.
“Lot of conversations there, the issue we run into is how they’re really performing in training. Quite honestly, the difference maker was Bryan Leyva played so well in the reserve game, so he caught our attention. He’s coming on, so he’s really playing well and you want to reward someone who’s playing well,” Hyndman said.
But it wasn’t like Wiedeman didn’t play well against Salt Lake. He did rebound nicely after a less than stellar opening 45 minutes to play better in the final frame, but in the end, it wasn’t enough to sway his coach’s judgment.
“I thought Wiedeman did not have an active first half but he played much better the second half in the reserve game. Now we’re throwing him into another level asking him to start. I wanted to reward Bryan and also to generate the other players, to motivate them to say hey, look Bryan got a start. And opportunities come in different ways-call up, injuries, coach’s gut feeling, match-ups,” Hyndman said. “For Bryan, the important thing was he got a call-up [from the reserves].”