FRISCO, Texas — For a number of FC Dallas players, Tuesday’s training session marked the beginning of yet another arduous MLS preseason. For rookie defender Matt Hedges, it represented much more.
Hedges and the team took the field on Tuesday morning in a training session open to the media and fans for the first time in 2012.
“To be drafted was something I wanted to do,” Hedges told MLSsoccer.com. “I feel like I have accomplished one thing, but I’ve got so much more to accomplish.”
Just moments after being drafted, the former North Carolina Tar Heel had difficulty describing his emotions. Now, with his first training session behind him, the defender is looking forward, not backward, from his draft day experience.
“I can’t really dwell on the fact that I got drafted,” said Hedges. “I’m just excited for the season.”
Hedges enters training camp with an eye on filling the void left by defender George John in the starting lineup. Though the Indiana native was an All-American in his senior year and compiled 85 starts in four years of college, he recognizes that a different challenge lies ahead.
“I expected the guys to be sharp, and the speed of play is a lot faster,” Hedges said after practice. “It’s everything I expected it to be.”
According to manager Schellas Hyndman, the 21-year-old looked impressive in his opening training session and arrived at camp in shape.
“I think Matt comes in as a pure defender, so that’s a good sign,” Hyndman said. “But it’s going to be an adjustment, both technically — getting the ball off his foot, making quick decisions, tactically — and then adding the physical presence.”
Hedges agrees with his new manager – at least in part.
“It’s always mental for the new guys,” he said. “You’ve just got to think quicker and be more mentally tough. Physically, I think I am ready.”
Hedges will have an opportunity to impress his new coaching staff, as the team will continue training in Frisco for two weeks ahead of a week-long trip to Mexico on Feb. 1. And if the rookie’s confidence is any indication, the team’s lone selection will make an impact in the coming season – and perhaps in the starting lineup.
“Coach wants to see you do well in training before he puts you in the game,” Hedges said. “If I can do that, I think I have a shot.”