Stopping forwards and posting shutouts. That is what Matt Hedges helped FC Dallas accomplish this past weekend, and what he enjoys doing in general.
Hedges is fresh off a good Week 3 performance in FC Dallas' 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact, and the game served as the latest example of what he means to the Western Conference side. Not only is Hedges the type of solid center back that can stymie even the most talented opponents, like Ignacio Piatti and Didier Drogba, but he is also a blossoming leader that is feeling more and more comfortable as the club's skipper.
The 25-year-old defender has been an integral part of FC Dallas since being drafted back in 2012. He has been a regular contributor from Day 1, and an every-game starter for each of the past three seasons. His steady development has been nothing short of impressive thus far, and a main reason why his stock continues to rise.
Here are 10 things to know about Matt Hedges:
Once a defender, always a defender
Unlike some of his teammates, Hedges hasn’t bounced around different positions on the field. He said he has been a defender since he first started playing soccer when he was just three years old.
“I’ve always liked defending. I just like taking the ball away from people,” Hedges said. “It’s what I do.”
All in the family
One of the first people he stole the ball away from as a child was his older sister, who ended up being a four-year letter winner at the University of Wisconsin. His mother was also a basketball player, and his father was a golfer. Hedges eventually followed the path of his sister, despite his parents wanting him to play one of their sports.
“I was awful at basketball because I had bad motor skills when I was younger with my hands,” Hedges said. “With my feet, I was great. But with my hands, I wasn’t very talented.”
His hands are better now
Hedges has grown an appreciation for basketball and would play now if he were to go professional in any other sport. Growing up just north of Indianapolis, Hedges still follows his Indiana Pacers closely.
“It’s the basketball capital of the world,” Hedges said.
The college life
Hedges had a busy college experience, playing three seasons at Butler University before transferring to North Carolina for his senior year. He was a captain his junior season at Butler and won a national championship with UNC in 2011, scoring six goals along the way and 18 throughout his collegiate career.
Captaining on the professional level
It didn’t take Hedges long to win over his FC Dallas coaches and teammates as a leader, and he received the armband in just his third season with the club. He became the youngest captain in franchise history at age 23 and was picked over former FCD veterans Blas Perez and Michel.
“When I was playing, I never really thought about what the captain was doing and what kind of job he had to do,” Hedges said. “But now it’s like, ‘Wow.’ I really kinda respect those guys that did it before me.”
Hedges hasn’t always been the loudest player on the pitch, but transitioning to wear the armband has made him more vocal, according to teammates. Fellow center back Zach Loyd said while it’s been a slow transition for Hedges, the growth has been apparent.
“I think he demands more out of guys in terms of doing the right things, preparing for games, getting ready,” Loyd said. “He’s been growing and he’s doing a great job.”
Video game connoisseur
It’s fitting that the National Video Game Museum is opening in Frisco at the beginning of April just one mile south of Toyota Stadium, because Hedges is widely considered one of the best gamers on the team (despite some competitive jabs from ‘keeper Chris Seitz). Hedges’ games of choice include Halo (through Halo 4), Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Kerbal Space Program on PC.
“Matt’s really good at video games,” Loyd said. “They used to play Halo a lot, but as years went on, guys get married and have kids, so video games get toned down a little. But he’s really good – probably top three on the team for sure.”
There is one noticeable omission from the long list of video games Hedges plays, and apparently slays at, and it is one that many of his teammates enjoy: FIFA.
“I’m doing soccer all day, so you could say it’s a job,” Hedges said. “But when I go home, I kind of want to disconnect from that world a little bit.”
Hedges has a history of being snubbed for the USMNT and was never selected to any of the youth teams, but he has still notched a cap as an injury call-up. He replaced an injured Brad Evans last January on the roster for international friendlies and received his first cap at outside back when he filled in for an injured DeAndre Yeldin. While he has yet to receive another call-up, he still remains grateful for the opportunity – no matter how brief.
“I got a cap, and it’s something I’ll never forget,” Hedges said.
Hedges was named to the MLS Best XI for the first time in his career following the 2015 season, alongside teammate Fabian Castillo. Hedges was also one of three finalists for MLS Defender of the Year after leading a Dallas defense that posted a league-best 13 shutouts and had the third fewest goals conceded (39).