FRISCO, Texas – When George John returned in March from his offseason loan at West Ham, Matt Hedges figured he’d spend his rookie season as an understudy to the veteran center back. But in a season where nothing seems to have gone to plan for FC Dallas, the North Carolina alum got his chance a lot sooner than anyone expected.
“I thought [Rookie of the Year] was possible if I could get on the field,” Hedges admitted to reporters recently. “Unfortunately, it was through injuries that I got my chance, but I definitely thought if I could get on the field for enough time that I could get into the running.”
When Ugo Ihemelu was lost in May to concussion symptoms, Hedges got a reluctant break. He’s started 19 of 20 matches since stepping into the lineup and performed admirably next to John and Hernán Pertúz. That the 22-year-old has had the mental makeup to handle the rigors of MLS so quickly is no surprise to his coach.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate with our draft picks,” Schellas Hyndman told MLSsoccer.com. “We study them quite well. It’s one of those areas where we can find out a lot about a player by going to the college coaches and finding out about their character, determination, and desire. All of those type of things that really matter when things aren’t going well. I think Matt fits into that same category.”
As Hedges has racked up the starts, the Rookie of the Year talk has grown, putting him right in the middle of the discussion for the award that no FC Dallas player has ever won.
Whether he wins it or not, his 2012 campaign will go down as the best rookie campaign in franchise history. Hedges overtook Zach Loyd’s record for most minutes played by a Dallas rookie in the Oct. 7 draw with Chivas USA. Meanwhile, only two rookies have ever scored more than Hedges’ three goals.
“Hopefully I’m towards the top,” Hedges said of the RotY voting. “There’s been a couple of other rookies that have gotten a lot of playing time that have done well so hopefully I’m up in that group.”
While FC Dallas are still clinging to their slim hopes to make the 2012 MLS Cup playoffs, Hyndman is already looking forward to next season, when he hopes Hedges can transition from being one of the top rookie defenders in the league to becoming one of the top defenders in the league.
“The negative thing that happened with Ugo’s injury turned into a positive thing for Matt because it gave him playing time and an opportunity to develop,” Hyndman said. “So that going into next year, he’s already an established player.”