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.