When FC Dallas took Matt Hedges with their only pick in the 2012 MLS Super Draft, it was hard for FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman to contain his excitement over adding the 6-foot-4 defender from North Carolina in January.
Hyndman even went so far as to compare the 22-year-old Hedges to current FCD center back George John, a comparison that continues to gain steam in his eyes. The ex-Tar Heel has appeared in three games thus far and it’s a fair statement to say his new coach is impressed with his body of work thus far.
“Quite honestly, I think Matt Hedges is another George John. I think there’s a lot of similarities when you look at size and the success they had at the university, determination, the character, strength, courageous,” Hyndman said.
However, the only thing keeping the rookie defender from logging more minutes with the first team is the fact Dallas currently has a glut of center backs.
“We have so many center backs right now, so he may be suffering a little bit because there’s not an opportunity. But I thought putting him in late in the game, we felt like we were getting a lot of chances getting forward there at the end, which would create free kicks and create corner kicks,” Hyndman said. “The first corner kick we had, he had a great header on it and it was deflected by a defender. I think it might have gotten by the keeper. I think he’s doing fine. He just needs more playing time.”
And having your coach’s confidence is never a bad thing no matter the level of competition. “Feeling good, getting into a couple of games recently just shows the coach is starting to get more confidence in me and I’m glad. I’ve been performing well in practices. He’s always told us that if we’ve been performing well in practices and in games that we’ll get a chance and it’s true. I couldn’t be happier,” Hedges said.
He’s not the only UNC product currently playing in the back for Dallas as right back Zach Loyd is the other and while his fellow Tar Heel has helped him acclimate to the professional ranks, it two other fellow defenders who have been especially helpful.
“I think it’s Ugo [Ihemelu] and George [John that have helped me the most],” Hedges said. “They play the same position as me. They’ve given me some pointers and have been really helpful in adapting my game to the next level.”
But even though he has already appeared in three games, that doesn’t mean his adjustment process hasn’t been any easier. “You’ve just got to think faster, the speed of play is a lot faster than the college level. You’ve just got to be quicker thinking and you’ve got to anticipate a little bit better,” Hedges said.
Going from being in the first 11 on a regular basis at UNC to coming off the bench in MLS has been another adjustment, but playing in reserve games has definitely helped keep him game sharp.
“Yeah, they’ve kind of broken up the practices, but I’m not worried about not getting a lot of minutes so far,” Hedges said. “Every day’s a chance to get better, whether it’d be practices or reserve games. So I’m taking the opportunity to do that.”