In time of need vs. Portland, FC Dallas find pleasant surprises in London Woodberry, Matt Hedges

FRISCO, Texas –There may not be a tougher way for a rookie center back to make his first career start and a second-year man to step into a leadership role than to have to face Portland’s three-headed attacking monster.

But with FC Dallas’ backline core short-handed, Matt Hedges and London Woodberry – making his first career start – stepped up against one of the highest-octane offenses in the league as FCD held on for a 1-1 draw with Portland on Wednesday night.

In the first half, the Timbers controlled most of the possession and outdid FC Dallas in shots on goal, 8-4, so the young center-back pairing was under considerable pressure. But overall, FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman was pleased with what he saw.

“London Woodberry had his first start and I thought for a rookie player, he did very well against a very athletic, good team,” Hyndman explained to reporters after the match. “He played against two very good strikers, very athletic strikers [in Darlington Nagbe and Frédéric Piquionne]. I don’t know if there are much better strikers in the league. So, this was a big night for him and I’m really happy for him.”

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The 21-year-old Homegrown signing was called upon thanks to injuries not only to starter George John, but to backups Stephen Keel and Walker Zimmerman as well. That left a leadership void at the back, especially with a rookie central defender getting his first start in tough circumstances.

But Hyndman found another pleasant surprise from second-year man Hedges, who has impressed with his skill since Day 1, but now has added a new asset to his résumé.

“I think it’s going to be Matt Hedges,” Hyndman replied when asked who was the defensive leader Wednesday night. “Matt’s the one we’ve been encouraging, but you know, my family always wanted me to be a doctor, but as much as they wanted me to be a doctor, I couldn’t. So, as much as you might want a player to be a leader and be vocal, sometimes [they] can’t. They just have to kind of grow into it ­– but I thought it was more leadership from him tonight than normal.”

Hedges is the first to admit that he isn’t the most vocal player, but he understood that it was up to him to fill John’s shoes and settle the rookie making his first start.

“I think he was good,” Hedges told MLSsoccer.com of Woodberry. “During the game, [I said], ‘Be calm and play your game, don’t try and do anything you wouldn’t normally do and you’ll be fine.’”

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“It’s never easy getting your first start, especially against a team like Portland with those three guys coming at you up top. I think he handled it well. He was pretty good right off the bat and got stronger as the game went on.”

For his part, Woodberry admitted to being nervous at the beginning of the match, but felt he settled into the flow of the game as the match went on.

“Today was a moment where I needed to step in because of injuries, but I thought I handled it well,” he said. “I feel like I contributed and held my own. … It was a good time out there – I enjoyed myself.”