FRSICO, Texas – When it was announced that George John was returning to FC Dallas from his loan spell at West Ham earlier this season, Matt Hedges must have been preparing for a season of apprenticeship.
Sitting behind John, Ugo Ihemelu and newcomer Hernán Pertúz on the depth chart, playing time for the No. 11 pick in January’s SuperDraft looked thin, despite impressing in preseason and reserve matches. However, a perfect storm of long-term injuries to both Ihemelu and John has thrust Hedges into the spotlight and, according to head coach Schellas Hyndman, he has excelled.
“When I say that he’s excelled, he doesn’t look like a rookie,” said Hyndman. “Every game he’s getting better. He’s scored two goals for the team and the last game vs. Chivas and I thought he might have been one of the players you’d consider for Man of the Match. That’s pretty unusual to talk about a rookie in that manner.”
Indeed, Hedges hasn’t looked like a rookie lately, starting the last five matches and turning in a performance last weekend that earned him man of the match honors from the TV broadcast.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better every day in training and in games I feel more comfortable despite playing next to a different player almost every time,” Hedges told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “I’m just getting more comfortable and getting more confident every day.”
While Hedges has defended well since Day 1 in Dallas, his biggest progression has come in the passing game. According to the OPTA Chalkboard, Hedges completed 66 successful passes last Saturday night, the most of any player on the field, while turning the ball over just five times.
“I think it’s just being smarter with it,” Hedges said about the progression in his passing game. “Even in preseason, I was trying to do too much. Coming out of college, they asked me to do a lot out of the back passing-wise, so I think just coming out and being smart with it and playing the simple pass that will help the team is smarter than trying to force balls into the strikers.”
With a decision on the future of soon-to-be out of contract John on the horizon, the play of Hedges has allowed head coach Schellas Hyndman to sleep much easier at night.
“As we talk to George in the last year of his contract, we may not feel like the earth is going to move if we’re not able to come to terms,” Hyndman said. “Because we know we have Matt who is going to come in here and play. I still think Matt and George could be two of the best center backs in the country playing side by side.”