Is Matt Hedges Ready for His Breakout Season?
The 24-year-old central defender is off to a strong start for FC Dallas, one of Major League Soccer's best clubs so far this season. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke to the up-and-coming New York native.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedTHE MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER season is still young, but two of the best story lines so far have been the turnaround of FC Dallas and the emergence of central defender Matt Hedges. Dallas selected Hedges with the 11th overall pick of the 2012 MLS draft, and over the course of his first two campaigns the Rochester, New York, native showed steady progress playing alongside George John in central defense. Eight games into his third season, Hedges is showing signs that he may be one of the best defenders in the league. “My confidence is high,” Hedges told American Soccer Now. “I’m hitting my stride and this is pretty much the best I’ve played in the three years I’ve been in the league. I think we have a ways to go. I can definitely improve multiple aspects of my game. There is a definite improvement that can come but I’m excited for the future.” FC Dallas got off to a strong start in 2013 but quickly faded and ultimately failed to make the playoffs. After the season Schellas Hyndman stepped down as coach and former Colorado Rapids coach Oscar Pareja took over. The move has paid immediate dividends, as Dallas is off to a 5-1-2 start and the Colombian Pareja has the team playing enthusiastic, attractive soccer. “I think Oscar has definitely had a big influence on us and he brings a really positive attitude all the time," Hedges said. "It’s pretty infectious for the whole team. I think that is one of the main things that has changed. Last year we started strong but kind of faded in the middle. The attitude this year is way, way more positive. I’m pretty happy about that.” And Pareja, it must be said, is pretty happy about Hedges. Last month, after FC Dallas cruised to an impressive 3-1 victory over Chivas USA, Pareja singled out Hedges for his strong play and used his post-game press conference to grab the attention of U.S. national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “He's leading us,” Pareja told reporters. “I'm very happy. I’m going to send a little message here. I think he’s ready to go and help us in the national team. His example on and off the field is outstanding. His performance is even better." "I'm very pleased with Matt.” Hedges, 24, spent his formative years in Indiana, began his collegiate career at Butler, and later transferred to ACC powerhouse North Carolina, where he helped the Tar Heels win the 2011 NCAA title. Despite his successes in college, Hedges has never represented the United States at any level—a fact that he uses as motivation. “I definitely think I have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder,” Hedges explained. “Obviously you play all those years and you think you’ve been a good player for a long time but you get overlooked by every national team—I think any player would have a chip on his shoulder if they felt that way. It is kind of motivating at the same time. You think you can play for those teams, so you want to show that.” “I’m definitely not bitter about it because those coaches made those decisions based on who they thought was best for their teams,” he added. “I just use it as motivation. They didn’t think I was good enough so I just have to be better than I was before.” Hedges' success so far this season is not going unnoticed. As a video game enthusiast, Hedges was amused to learn that he recently made EA Sports FIFA 14 Ultimate Team of the Week last week, joining luminaries such as Lukas Podolski, Raheem Sterling, and Paul Pogba. The EA Sports nomination might be a rather small award in comparison to other pieces of silverware but it does reflect Hedges’ clear ambition to eventually make his way overseas to play in the elite leagues in Europe. “Absolutely,” Hedges said of his long-term goals. “That’s one of the plans for me. Hopefully I can get overseas in a few years and show what I’m capable of. That’s always something I’ve wanted to do in the future. It’s definitely in the works.” For now, however, Hedges is focused on FC Dallas and helping it become one of the league’s elite teams. It currently sits in second place in the Western Conference and trails leaders Seattle only on goal differential, with both teams having a league-best 16 points through eight games. Last week was a bit of a setback for Dallas, as a 39th-minute red card to Zach Loyd had the club on its heels in what would eventually result in a 4-1 loss to DC United. The upcoming schedule could be a bellwether for FC Dallas, which will host defending Supporters Shield Champions New York Red Bulls this Sunday followed by a trip out west to face the surging Seattle Sounders. Hedges, however, likes his team’s chances. “I think we’re one of the best teams in the league,” Hedges said. “We have so many quality players all over the field. We still have guys injured coming back who are great players. We have so many different weapons.” Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.
April 30, 2014
April 30, 2014