Sometimes the biggest lesson rookies have to learn in professional sports is how to be patient. That is definitely true for FC Dallas’ Andrew Wiedeman, who is now in his second year in MLS.
A second-round pick in the 2010 MLS Super Draft, the former Cal Golden Bear’s playing time as a rookie was limited to friendlies, scrimmages and reserve games. But that’s what happens when you come to a club that was as veteran-laden as the 2010 FCD team was.
But towards the end of his rookie season, some might say fate intervened in some way. The Dallas back line was rocked by a rash of injuries and Wiedeman, who had never played on defense at any level, got a look back there and honestly, for someone who had never played back there before, he did alright for himself.
He admits he never thought he’d be working as an outside back but as long as it gets him on the field, he’s completely OK with it.
“I had been just filling in,” Wiedeman said. “Because of our lack of depth back there, it was an opportunity to get on the field whether it was during practice or reserve games. So I just played back there. I didn’t necessarily think it was going to be a long-term thing but I was eager because it’s another position to play. I was working at it and it just kind of stuck.”
But defense hasn’t been his only position as the Cal product has also been playing a good deal of outside mid over the last year. Such versatility has served him well.
“I’ve dressed out two times since I’ve been here. Being able to play more positions gives me more opportunities to get on the field,” Wiedeman said. “It’s a long season. People get injured. You never know where they’re going to get hurt. If you can only play forward, you’re sitting there waiting for a forward to get hurt but if you can play all over, you’re diversified in what you can do and you’ve got more opportunities.”
One of those two games where he was been on the 18-man game roster came on July 2 against Columbus. He came on in the 89th minute for right back Zach Loyd to make his MLS debut. While one minute isn’t much time at all to speak of, it’s definitely a start and one this California native will take.
“It’s been a while but it was good to finally get into a game. I’ve just been working hard back there,” Wiedeman said. “It [playing in the back] helps me in all aspects. It helps me appreciate the defensive side of things a bit better. I was a forward in all my college days and didn’t really value the defensive side of the ball. Now I know if I’m playing as an outside midfielder, I’ve got to keep the ball because it sucks to be that outside right back if you’re turning it over and are on your heels all day.”
Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman has been a fan of his ever since before he drafted him. However, the issue with the versatile youngster was finding a spot for him on the field.
“He is athletic. He hits a very good service, a very good shot but we can’t find a way to get him on the field as a forward or as a wing midfielder, not today. So we started training him last year as a back,” Hyndman said. “Now, he’s made some improvements there but so much of playing defense is being experienced and knowing what they’re going to do before they do it. Now he’s not only trying to learn a position, coming from forward to midfield to defense, he also doesn’t bring the experience. A lot of things are happening that he’s not picking up quick enough.”
But despite that lack of experience, the FCD coach admits there is plenty to like about the skill set that Wiedeman brings to his back line.
“He’s one of the players that if we’ve got to go with a defender [to fill in], he’s the next guy. In many ways, that versatility has helped us and helped give him more playing time,” Hyndman said. “I still think he’s probably a better midfielder than a defender.”
However, learning the defensive side of the equation hasn’t been the only adjustment he has had to make over the last year. Andrew has also had to learn the nuances of being a flank midfielder as well.
“I played in midfield for maybe half a season when I was 18 just filling in because we didn’t really have anyone else out there. But through college and most of my youth days, I was predominantly a forward,” Wiedeman said.
And while defensive responsibilities were something that were pretty foreign to him as a forward, he is now realizing how important those duties are to any successful team.
“My skill set has always been finishing and striking a ball from distance. I had to kind of learn the whole defensive side of things,” Wiedeman said. “So when I’m playing in the midfield, it’s a little bit easier because I’m closer to the goal and you get more opportunities to kind of showcase what you can do. You have to do something well that coach notices. That’s always been the challenge, whether it’s in the back or the midfield, just trying to get up and be positive.”
Speaking of Dallas’ 2010 season, he was the one who stood in for Los Angeles midfielder David Beckham during practice that week, simulating the long balls and towering free kicks that the talented Englishman is known for.
It was a role he filled quite well. While that might be the smallest example of how he is a player who will do whatever it takes to help FCD win, it was something that epitomized him in a nutshell.
“At the end of the day, I want to get on the field. It’s great that we have the Reserve League back. It’s really helping me out and a lot of other guys to get games,” Wiedeman said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t want to be playing there. I want to be playing with the first team. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get in there and whatever is going to help the team the most. If they need me playing right back, that’s fine. If my role is hitting long balls before we play the Galaxy in a playoff game, I’ll do it. I’m going to take advantage of those opportunities, give it my best and hopefully eventually all of that will pay off.”
His latest chance to start figures to be on Tuesday night as FCD hosts Real Salt Lake in a US Open Cup quarterfinal match at Pizza Hut Park. Wiedeman started and played all 90 minutes of the 3-2 win over Orlando City SC in the third round back on June 28 and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get the nod from Hyndman again this week at right back.