COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – When listing off the best defenders in MLS over the past two seasons, Matt Hedges is most likely near the top of anyone's selection.
The reigning MLS Defender of the Year was a vital part of the FC Dallas backline during the team’s Supporters' Shield-winning campaign last season, helping FCD earn 11 of its 12 shutouts in 2016.
Those accomplishments have earned him another look from U.S. men’s national team manager Bruce Arena, who called Hedges into the USMNT’s latest camp in preparation for a crucial slate of games in June.
“He’s been very good,” Arena said of the 27-year-old defender. “He’s been one of the better center backs in [MLS]. He’s one of those players who definitely deserves a look so we’re happy to have him in camp.”
It marks just the third USMNT camp in Hedges’ seven seasons of playing professionally. He was enthusiastic to answer to call.
“It’s exciting to be here,” Hedges said. “It’s always been a dream of mine and to be called in is a goal of mine.”
Game opportunities on the international stage have also been elusive for Hedges. He’s only been capped once – as a late substitute in a 2015 friendly against Panama – during his seven-year playing career.
“It was only 15 minutes at right back but I remember every touch and every play that I was involved in,” Hedges recalled.
Opportunity showed itself once more with a call-up to a USMNT camp this past January, only to be ended abruptly when Hedges left camp with a knee sprain. It was a disappointing for Hedges, but Arena kept the lines of communication open.
“He kept in contact and let me know I was doing well,” Hedges said. “I was having a good January camp before I got injured, so I was hoping I’d be invited once again to one of these.”
Now that he’s back with the national team, he’s treating this latest call-up as a second chance, and hoping to avoid any injuries.
While Hedges’ participation with the USMNT remains a great honor, it comes at an inopportune time for the club that he captains. Back in Frisco, the defensive options look limited for FC Dallas. With Hedges on national team duty and center back partner Walker Zimmerman out with a strained MCL, Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja will have some shuffling to do for this weekend’s match against Real Salt Lake.
“It’s going to be tough,” Hedges said of the situation. “With [Zimmerman] picking up an injury and me leaving, we’ll have to rely on some guys who don’t get as many minutes. I’ve played with those guys. I’ve seen them in training, so I think they’ll be ready.”
Conversely, the current USMNT camp holds a wealth of options at center back, with Hedges joining the likes of John Brooks, Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron.
The competition is deep, but Hedges is readying himself for the call.
“I’m just hoping to get out there and show Bruce what I’m capable of,” he said.