Captain Matt Hedges has been the most consistent player for FC Dallas for the better part of the last half decade. For three consecutive seasons, he’s been named FC Dallas’ defender of the year, captained his side to the Open Cup and Supporter’s Shield victories, named MLS’ 2016 Defender of the Year and is currently carrying his club through an undefeated start to the 2017 campaign. Not to mention, he’s also anchoring the defense to a shut out success rate of 50% of league games played so far.
So what’s the deal? Why is that on paper is Matt Hedges so good yet cannot get a look with the USMNT? Why is it that even after finally getting the nod for Defender of the Year, is he still one of the most underrated players in the league?
Hedges is Not A Specialist
... at least not a measurable sense or an easily identifiable manner. Matt Hedges is far too well-rounded and complete of a defender. Here’s an exercise, name one skill set that Hedges possess that he’s elite level?
Perhaps “scoring off set pieces” was your answer, but when choosing between Walker Zimmerman and Matt Hedges, who would you say is more dominant in the air? Most of you will point to Zimmerman.
Hedges does a lot of things well; his passing is fine, he has enough speed, his tackling ability is strong, his leadership and organizational skills have given him the captaincy. But there is not one thing that Hedges does that stands him apart from the rest of the field, at least not in terms of the “eye test”.
Tim Ream and Matt Besler are better arguably better passers. Omar Gonzalez and Walker Zimmerman are argueably more dominant in the air. Geoff Cameron has a deeper throw-in that can be used as an offensive weapon.
So then what? Is Hedges doomed by simply the fact that he can do all things really well, but not one thing at that upper elite level? Maybe, at least for now.
When I pulled up the defensive rating from WhoScored.com, well, I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.
As you can see, Hedges is rated highest among all defenders with teammate Zimmerman second. (Though I did find it very interesting that Maximiliano Urruti was the highest rated even though he’s a striker.)
Hedges isn’t in the Top 10 when it comes to tackles per game. That is because he’s better positioned to intercept passes and funnel the ball elsewhere. (He’s actually tied for 1st in interceptions per game at 3.4.)
What it all means is that Hedges is kind of like a shut down cornerback in that throwball game. Hedges doesn’t rack up a lot of defensive statistics because he is properly positioned to discourage the ball being passed in his direction. In other words, you don’t notice Hedges because he doesn’t get to see much of the ball (at least on the defensive side of things).
You would think that the trained eyes of Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena would be able to identify that, but it seems that they (well, just Bruce now) want players who bring at least one noticeable trait or quality with them to the lineup.
Should Hedges be considered a regular at the USMNT level? Probably. We still haven’t seen him play at that level other than that meager set of minutes at right back at a friendly. But as the Dallas faithful have seen from the past five and a half years, that if Zimmerman belongs at that level then surely his equal in Hedges should at the very least warrant a considerable look.