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Big in Texas: Stellar back Hedges continues to fly under radar

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A half-decade into his tenure with FC Dallas, Matt Hedges is nearing the title of Honorary Texan.

“Yeah, I’ve got the hat, I’ve got the boots, I love it here.,” Hedges told ProSoccerTalk, breaking into a laugh while adding, “I’ve got the guns, all that kind of stuff. I consider myself a Texan now. I just need the pickup truck then I’ll be all set.”

Whether a North Texas dealership sees this as a chance to make Hedges full-on Texan or not, the towering 26-year-old back from Indiana has already added something shiny to FCD headquarters this week when he and the Toros claimed the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title.

[ MORE: Who leads MLS Awards races? ]

It took 164 games in an FC Dallas uniform for Hedges to claim his first bit of silverware, a wait beaten in length by the club’s 19 years since earning it as the Dallas Burn in 1997.

So it’s a bit fitting that their 6-foot-4 center back’s diving header of a Mauro Diaz cross gave FCD a lead it would not relinquish on Wednesday in Frisco as the Toros claimed their second USOC title.

“Seeing us win a trophy, and knowing we went through a whole tournament without losing, how we did it with coming back, overtime games, or winning late, knowing no matter the circumstances, that we can get it done, I can’t feel any better,” Hedges said.

FC Dallas celebrates its 4-2 win over the New England Revolution in the U.S. Open Cup soccer final, Tuesday Sept. 13, 2016, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
FC Dallas celebrates its 4-2 win over the New England Revolution in the U.S. Open Cup soccer final, Tuesday Sept. 13, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Hedges may be the most undercover flat-out star in MLS, and this season has been no different for the big man. He’s been in Texas since being chosen with the 11th overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, but he’s rarely seen a season like this one: FCD is in the driver’s seat for the Supporters’ Shield with five regular season matches left on the docket.

That’s in no small part thanks to the captain and his center back mate Walker Zimmerman, who has come into his own. Another first rounder from the SuperDraft (No. 7 in 2013), the 23-year-old Zimmerman may put a pair of FCD backs on the Defender of the Year ballot.

[ MORE: Martino to be named Atlanta United’s first coach ]

Before going any further, credit to the FCD technical department for making those picks. Some clubs haven’t utilized the SuperDraft well twice in the last decade; FCD found big, strong, starting quality center backs in consecutive years.

According to advanced statistics site Squawka, here’s how the pair ranks amongst peers this year.

Ranks amongst MLS defenders, 2016 season
Defensive performance score:  Zimmerman 1st, Hedges 3rd
Interceptions per game: Hedges 3rd, Zimmerman 5th
Pass accuracy: Hedges 6th, Zimmerman 12th
Aerial duels per game: Zimmerman 2nd, Hedges 17th

FRISCO, TX - MARCH 06: Walker Zimmerman #25 of FC Dallas dribbles the ball against C.J. Sapong #17 of Philadelphia Union in the second half at Toyota Stadium on March 6, 2016 in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Zimmerman (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“We’ve definitely developed a good partnership this season,” said the 6-foot-3 Zimmerman, who added that he entered this year with more determination than any other season.

“This is our fourth year together and our first one starting together. Our chemistry has definitely translated onto the field.”

Hedges has been a top-end MLS defender in essentially every season he’s started for the club, and he credits the partnership for raising his profile this year.

“(Zimmerman’s) evolution has made my job a lot easier,” Hedges said. “He wins a ton of balls. It makes me not have to do as much, basically. The best part of the partnership is making each other’s job easier, if that makes sense.”

[ MORE: Three things from Liverpool’s win over Chelsea ]

Their manager’s willingness to play youngsters helps, too. Oscar Pareja has championed the Academy set-up, and hasn’t shied away on the topic of playing the best Americans as soon as they are ready to roll.

“(Pareja) showing that respect and playing Americans gives them a lot of confidence,” Hedges said. “The Academy guys know if they work hard, they’ll get a shot. So in training games, they’re going hard and trying to get better because they know if they impress, they’ll get a shot on the field. I think that’s a huge thing. That’s why we’re doing so well because those young guys have that confidence.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Luis Pereira #4 of Panama vies for position to the ball against Matt Hedges #3 of the USA in the second half of their international men's friendly match at StubHub Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The play resulted in a goal by Dempsey. The USA defeated Panama 2-0. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
In his only cap to date, Hedges vies with Panama’s Luis Pereira on Feb. 8, 2015 (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Come January, we’d love to see both Hedges and Zimmerman together in USMNT camp. After all, pairing an international duo who play together for club is certainly ideal, Hedges has a cap under his belt, and Zimmerman has donned the red, white, and blue at the U-18, U-20, and U-23 level.

The USMNT’s center back corps is a bit deeper than usual with John Brooks and Geoff Cameron thriving, the MLS duo of Matt Besler and Steve Birnbaum, and prospects Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga playing overseas.

[ MORE: Pochettino says Carter-Vickers deserves to start ]

Hedges admits he thinks about Cap No. 2 sometimes, while Zimmerman has the idea in his mind a bit more often.

“Always,” Zimmerman said. “You’re always thinking about it when you’re at this level. The next step is striving to play for the full national team.”

But there’s a treble (or triple) to sort out first. Dallas has a tough run-in, with the Galaxy home and away, trips to Real Salt Lake and NYCFC, and a visit from Seattle. But FCD has a four-point lead on LA, and a five-point lead on Colorado (The Rapids have played two fewer games.

“We want to win every trophy,” Hedges said. “The Cup and Supporters Shield are right there. We’ve put ourselves in a great spot. We try not to think about it, and our mantra is one day at a time. If we could win two more trophies, I don’t know if I could be happier.”

Copa America: Watch Newcastle’s Almiron sets up Paraguay opener with 60-yard sprint (video)

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For the second time in as many games, Argentina has allowed it’s opponent to score the first goal. This time, it has Miguel Almiron to thank.

Starting with a dummy that lead to a more than 60-yard sprint to the end-line, Almiron showcased his top-line speed, strength, and dribbling ability as he lead Paraguay down the field in transition, eventually crossing into the middle. It was there that Olimpia’s Richard Sanchez met the cross and sliced it home to put Paraguay up 1-0 in the first half.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Atlanta United fans saw plenty of that blazing speed during Almiron’s two years in the U.S. If Newcastle fans get to witness this in person more this coming season, Almiron will be a fan-favorite.

 

 

Transfer Roundup: Neymar to cost $337 million? Could Jorginho follow Sarri to Juve?

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Will he stay or will he go?

That’s the main question surrounding Neymar this summer. If reports out of France – and there are many – are to be believed, Neymar will have to stay.

[READ: Landon Donovan to lead USL franchise]

Le Parisien reported on Wednesday that if Neymar was to leave Paris Saint-Germain this summer, it would cost an insane $337 million (€300 million) in transfer fees. With that price, and UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, it pretty much rules out any club from Europe from signing the Brazilian star. Neymar has recently been linked with a move back to Barcelona, with $112 million and other players reportedly included in a deal from Barcelona to PSG.

There’s so many moving pieces involved in any case. Antoine Griezmann is expected to leave Atletico Madrid, with Barcelona the rumored destination. But if Neymar goes to Barcelona, could Griezmann head to PSG? Meanwhile PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi pretty much called out Neymar for some of his off the field – and on the pitch – antics, likely hurting their relationship.

So while it seems like Neymar – and PSG – may want the relationship to end, PSG won’t miss out on getting its money back.

Here’s more transfer stories from around Europe:


Jorginho to Juventus? 

Jorginho is to Maurizio Sarri like red wine is to a medium-rare steak. They just go great together.

With Sarri moving to Juventus, that raises the question that Jorginho, who moved with Sarri to Chelsea, could move back to Italy this summer. There’s plenty of reasons why it could make sense. Despite playing 56 times for the Blues, including helping lead them to the UEFA Europa League title, he took plenty of criticism from the media and fans for his lack of defensive ability. Fans were also upset with Sarri’s insistence of playing Jorginho at the 6, and not at the 6 or as part of a double pivot with N’Golo Kante. In Premier League games that Chelsea was undone, it was because Jorginho was overrun in midfield.

Jorginho meanwhile could go back to Italy, where he has citizenship, plays for the national team and enjoyed so much success with Napoli.

According to reports out of Italy, Jorginho’s agent said that the player is happy in London, but they would wait and see what happens next from Juventus.

“Chelsea have a four-year contract with the man,” Joao Santos said, via Football Italia. “We’ll wait a few days to figure out whether there is any truth in this interest mentioned in the papers. His past at Napoli won’t be an issue, because Jorginho is a professional. Right now, Jorginho is happy at Chelsea. He found a great atmosphere and we can’t really say that he’d like to go elsewhere, but anything can happen on the transfer market. We’ll wait and see…”

Follow Live: Mexico faces Canada in Gold Cup doubleheader nightcap

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From Mile High USA, Denver, Colo., the 2019 Gold Cup continues with a highly-anticipated matchup between Mexico and Canada.

El Tri is coming off a 6-0 rout of Cuba in the opener at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena last week, while Canada thrashed Martinique, 4-0 in its opener. All of which leads to Wednesday, when an up-start Canada faces a young and firing Mexico in the 10 p.m. ET nightcap.

[ LIVE: Latest Gold Cup scores ]

The LA Galaxy’s Uriel Antuna, a late addition to the squad, scored a hat-trick against Cuba and is one of the many young players getting their first chance to impress new Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino. Meanwhile, Canada is having a recent resurgence, with young stars Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies and Mark-Anthony Kaye all making an early impact.

Meanwhile, Cuba and Martinique now battle it out in the first match of the night from Denver at 8 p.m., with both sides hoping for three points and a chance to emerge from the group in third place. Cuba has already lost one player to asylum in the U.S., but it’s unclear what kind of impact that will have on the team.

Follow along with us on the link above and in the comments below.

Anderlecht introduces new mayonnaise in team colors

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Fans support their favorite soccer teams with shirts, scarves, and more apparel and merchandise.

Now, Belgium side Anderlecht is taking fandom to a new level: Food.

In an interesting marketing move, Anderlecht announced that it’s come out with its own version of mayonnaise that’s been dyed purple, the main color of the club (The team is called “The Purple and White” in French and Dutch). One of the most popular gameday snacks in Belgium are fries and mayonaise, according to an informal UEFA poll, and now, fans of Anderlecht can dip their fries into purple mayo!

Mayo is apparently so popular in Belgium that there are literally laws on the books governing its ingredients. The move to create a purple sauce comes from a continued business partnership with Brussels Ketjup, a national Belgian ketchup that has sponsored the team.

The purple mayo will be sold in stores around Brussels (where Anderlecht is located) and Belgium, and proceeds from the sales will go towards Child Focus, a pan-European foundation that helps missing and exploited children.

Could we see this come to the Premier League and the U.S.? Imagine red pies at Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester United, or a bright green pie in Norwich.

What about green ketchup in Seattle for the Sounders, or orange fries at Houston Dynamo games.

It’s unlikely to happen – different colored ketchup from Heinz was a marketing failure – but it could be fun if it was ever tried again on a small scale, tied to a sporting event or team.

Perhaps we’ll be seeing Vincent Kompany downing some fries and purple mayo this fall.