Three good questions for: FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges

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PORTLAND, Ore. — FC Dallas got lucky in Jan. 2012. That’s when when Matt Hedges, the best defender in that year’s draft, fell to them with the 11th pick. Hedges wasn’t supposed to last that long, but when he did, FCD had a potential solution at center back. With George John investigating options overseas, Dallas needed somebody who could step in next to Ugo Ihemelu.

Fast-forward 13 months and Hedges and John form one of the more intriguing center defense pairings in Major League Soccer, a tandem that leaves Schellas Hyndman with few doubts in defense. John’s authoritative presence combined with Hedges’ skill and athleticism allow Dallas’s head coach to focus on his skill-evolving attack.

The duo has the potential to be one of the league’s best central pairings, but that kind of status will depend on how Hedges progresses in his second professional season. ProSoccerTalk caught up to the former Tar Heel as his team was completing their part in Portland’s preseason tournament:

Can you talk a little about you and [George John], how you see your guys’ relationship as far as who plays which role and what you’re trying to do when you’re playing along side him?

I think we’re both taking a pretty active role. Communication is key. I’m trying to improve mine, and he’s fantastic at that, so I think he is more of the communicator of the two.

I’m trying to help him out. We’re kind of similar players. I think it’s going to work out really well for us.

I like to knock [the ball] around a little bit more, so him being big and strong, he can get up and win it. If we can keep possession through me, then I’m perfectly fine with that. And I’ll get into it sometimes, too.

On the perception of John as the “hammer” while he serves as more of the “all-arounder”: “Yeah, I’m alright with that.”

Last year you had Kevin (Hartman) behind you … This year, he’s gone, you have two relatively inexperienced guys behind you (Chris Seitz and Raul Fernández). What difference does that make for you? What difference do you see that making for the team?

Note: Fernández, a Peruvian international, has spent most of his career in his domestic league.

I definitely learned a lot from Kevin, and it was really helpful having him behind me. At the same time, Chris and Raul are both fantastical goalkeepers.

We’ll be alright, I think. They both communicate well. Raul’s English is getting better everyday. Seitz – you know what he’s going to bring. I’m not really worried about it at all.

What kind of goals do you set personally after a pretty successful rookie year?

Yeah, (it was) definitely had a very successful rookie year, but I’m just looking to get better every day, every game – improve. Make less mistakes, improve with the ball distributing, winning aerial challenges, being smarter. Just improving every facet of my game, every day.

It’s an obvious answer from any young player — just get better — but how Hedges improves will be the most intriguing part of Dallas’s center back duo. Still only 22, Hedges has the potential to develop into a rare MLS center back who can be a plus player distributing the ball.

With John to his right, the second-year pro should have the freedom to develop that part of his game, something that will help Dallas get the most out of their attacking talents.

Europa League Preview: Everton, Milan look to make group stage

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Everton look to make it back into the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season and it has a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg of its tie.

Ronald Koeman and co. travel to Croatia to face Hadjuk Split Thursday having won the first leg at Goodison Park, 2-0. Everton is coming off a hard-fought draw on Monday with Manchester City and will be on short rest heading into the match.

Elsewhere in Europa League action, AC Milan take its 6-0 aggregate lead to Skopje, Macedonia as the legendary club looks to return to the group stage of a European competition for the first time since 2013-2014.

Here’s a look at all of Thursday’s Europa League matches, with the current aggregate scores:

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EFL Cup Rewind: Southampton, Newcastle knocked out by Championship sides

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Last season, Southampton made it to the EFL Cup final. This year, it’s a different story.

The Saints were bounced by Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 at home on Wednesday in the second round of the cup. Joining Southampton of Premier League sides going home early was Newcastle, which lost 3-2 after extra time at home against Nottingham Forest.

Four other Premier League sides did advance to the third round, as Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Ham United and Burnley all won their fixtures.

Here’s a look at the rest of Wednesday’s EFL Cup action:

Blackburn 0-2 Burnley

Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 2-1 Rotherham

Newcastle 2-3 Nottingham Forest

Southampton 0-2 Wolverhampton

Stoke City 4-0 Rochdale

Breaking down who each Premier League team could face in the UCL Group Stage

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The UEFA Champions League group stage lineup is complete, with five Premier League clubs making the list.

On Wednesday, Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the group stage after beating Hoffenheim, 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff qualification round.

Thursday’s Champions League draw (2 p.m. ET) will place clubs into groups of four, where they’ll play three matches at home and away.

Here’s a look at the four coefficient pots and who each Premier League club could face:

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Follow Live – Texas Derby, Cascadia Cup headline busy night of MLS action

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Welcome to MLS Rivalry Week.

The surging Houston Dynamo could move to first place in the Western Conference with a win over rivals FC Dallas while the current first-place side, the Seattle Sounders travel north and across the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The Dynamo have made an impressive turnaround under coach Wilmer Cabrera and he’ll have the trio of Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis and star forward Erick Torres available to face Dallas after missing the Dynamo’s match at Vancouver last weekend, which ended 2-1 in favor of the Whitecaps.

FC Dallas are in its worst form of the season, winless in its last four games, but the team will be extra motivated to beat its rivals.

El Capitan is on the line after draws between FC Dallas and the Dynamo in two matches earlier this season.

Meanwhile up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps host a Sounders squad that pulled out a last-gasp victory last weekend over Minnesota United. While the team is in great form on the road recently (two wins and two draws), the top story heading into the game is the unexpected absence of Joevin Jones, who left the Sounders for his home in Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the upcoming international break.

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On the other side, Fredy Montero faces his former club and carries an interesting record into Wednesday’s match. Of his 35 MLS goals, 11 have been scored against Cascadia Cup competition.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s action:

Full schedule

Columbus Crew vs. LA Galaxy – 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.ET

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo – 8 p.m. ET

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids – 10:30 p.m. ET