There's not a whole lot of debate on who is starting in the front 6 for FC Dallas. Except for maybe Atiba Harris' vacated spot(which should be filled by Brek Shea), there's no controversy in starting Cunningham, Ferreira, McCarty, Chavez, and Hernandez.
However, with the news that Heath Pearce is out and George John is ready to start the second leg, there are lots of questions on what the FCD back 4 should be heading to Salt Lake City leaving Schellas Hyndman with some big decisions to make.
Let's look at the realistic options for each position:
Left back: This is the one position where there is little question on who starts. Jair Benitez has started 28 of Dallas' 30 games at the left back position and he will be there Saturday night at Rio Tinto.
A look at the other 3 spots and who is likely to start and who should start after the jump...Schellas has a very interesting quote on Zach Loyd possibly starting at right back.
-Center back and right back:
Ugo Ihemelu - The one who is almost 100% assured of starting. He was caught a little bit out of position on the Espindola goal, but there's no doubt that his speed and athleticism are imperative to FCD's success. After the Espindola goal, Ugo settled down and played a great game. Write his name in pen on the starting XI at one of the center back positions.
Zach Loyd - Here's where it gets a little bit tricky...Loyd has been a revelation for FCD this season. The way he plays much bigger than his 5'10" frame and his jumping ability has proved to be much better at center back than anyone could expect. A player who originally found his way into the starting lineup at right back, Loyd was started at right back last Saturday but moved to center back due to Jackson's ineptness in the middle. After a rough start to his rookie year, Loyd has settled in remarkably and Dallas has allowed just 13 goals in his last 16 starts for FCD.
George John - Arguably Dallas' best defender throughout the season, John's performances through Dallas win streak started some murmurs of a possible January call-up for the Greek-American. The John-Ihemelu partnership, when healthy and cooking, is one of the best center back pairings we've seen in this franchise's history. The dilemma in starting George John is will he be able to give you 90 minutes. John has been bothered by a nagging hamstring injury for over a month now and was "80%" last Saturday. John is dominant in the air and, if healthy, a bang on starter. However, starting John runs the risk of getting beat on a through ball with the speed of Robbie Findley and possibly having to be subbed at halftime.
Jackson - The Brazilian mid-season signing has been a fixture on the FC Dallas roster lately starting 9 games since being signed in July. His versatility has caused his name to be called a bunch lately, however his play has been fairly sub-par in recent weeks. Jackson was badly out-to-sea on Espindola's early goal last Saturday, running in some strange circular motion rather than closing down on the shot after the Argentine had beaten Ihemelu. After moving to his more natural right back position later in the match, he was much better, but in Jackson's last 8 starts dating back to the NY game, Dallas has allowed 12 goals. He does still offer a ton of versatility, speed and an ability to get forward better than Zach Loyd. After his dreadful 25 minutes at center back, he will certainly not start there but if Hyndman determines that John shouldn't start at center back then we will see Jackson at right back
What should Hyndman do?
Schellas Hyndman has an interesting quote in Steve Hunt's story about Loyd's strong play on Saturday.
“Sometimes you ask players to do things they can’t do or they don’t feel as comfortable [doing],” said Hyndman. “We’re in a playoff game and he’s been playing center back for six to eight weeks and then, all of a sudden, you put him in at right back.
“That doesn’t mean he couldn’t [start at right back] once a year down the road, but I thought he had a very good performance once he went in the middle.”
A ton, of course, depends on how good George John feels. If he's up to 95%, you have to play him...you dance with the girl you brought and the Ugo/John partnership in the middle got FC Dallas where you are. However, those words above make you wonder whether Schellas Hyndman will start Zach Loyd on the right side. In my opinion, much of the problems with Loyd on the right and Jackson in the middle on Saturday was due to Jackson's poor play, rather than any problems from Loyd.
Bottom line, you must have Loyd's athleticism, speed and jumping ability on the field. Jackson provides a lot going forward, but with a 2-1 lead defending is going to be much more important and Zach Loyd hasn't had a defensive brain fart in a long, long time.
What do you think? Does Jackson need to be on the field? Have your say!