When Bryan Leyva was given the starting nod last Saturday evening, it raised a lot of eyebrows. Schellas Hyndman, ironic given his career in the college coaching game, has been extremely cautious of giving starts to young players, so it was a bit of a shock that the newly 20-year-old Leyva was given the nod over Andrew Wiedeman, 22 years old, for the open spot on the right wing. In fact, Leyva became the third youngest player to start for Schellas Hyndman on Saturday, with just Brek Shea and Fabian Castillo having started a game for Schellas at a younger age.
"I'm very happy for the opportunity, it's great. I take a lot out of it, obviously, playing at home and starting was very big for me...It helps me for future games to know what it's like and to be more comfortable with it." Said Leyva on his first start.
With players like Shea, Castillo and Carlos Rodriguez ahead of the young Mexican on the depth chart, it may come as a bit of a surprise to Leyva that he's getting playing time so early in the season. However, a crunch of injuries and national team callups has forced Hyndman to dig into his stable of young, exciting talent.
"The positive is that some players are going to get more opportunities," said Schellas Hyndman on the recent absence of starters in the offensive midfield. "Like Bryan Leyva did the other night, who did himself some favors. He had a good first half and that builds his confidence."
For Leyva, a player blessed with immense offensive talent that has shone through with fantastic performances in MLS Reserve League games, the process of transferring that confidence on the ball to first team matches will be essential to making an impression on his coach that keeps him at the front of the roster once Shea and Castillo return.
"It's similar," said Leyva of the reserve games."It's not exactly the same as MLS games, but it's the same mentality and of course it helps me out a lot, me and my teammates. Those reserve games, I'm thankful for them and I try to take the most out of them."
Other FC Dallas teammates have noticed his offensive talent as well. FC Dallas captain Ugo Ihemelu knows what Leyva is capable of, but stresses the importance of not just impressing in practice, but showing other MLS teams what he can do.
"He'll do something unbelievable here or there. He's nutmegged me a couple times in the past couple weeks and I'm always ready for a guy trying to 'meg me so he just pulls things out of nowhere," said the captain. "The game is different though and he just has to get that experience from games and he got his first start so hopefully that gives him some confidence. All he has to do is just go in there and do what he's capable of doing...and know that he can make mistakes as long as it's high up on the field."
It's the mistakes in the middle of the park, both in turnovers and not tracking back on defense that has kept Leyva's offensive talents off the pitch. His fitness has been questioned in the past by his coach and the strict responsibilities of wingers in Hyndman's system has caused some problems for the youngster, but he thinks things have been steadily improving.
"It's something that the coach asks not just from me, but from all the players. Obviously, I'm more of an attacking player, but I have to get used to the defending part. I think I'm getting there and it's getting better and I'm happy for that, but I have to keep working on what coach is asking of me defensively...hopefully there's one day where it's automatic and I don't even think about it," said Leyva.
While the electrifying offensive talent will hopefully be on display for everyone at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City on Sunday night, it's those defensive responsibilities that will keep Leyva on the pitch once guys like Shea, Castillo and Rodriguez return. A first career goal, and the subsequent celebration is far from Leyva's mind, at least that's what he'd like you to believe.
"No, I haven't thought about it," said a coy Leyva. "I'm more focused on playing well and helping the team win to get that result. If the goal comes, it would be great and just a spontaneous celebration."