FRISCO – Julian de Guzman’s 96th-minute game-winning goal has earned all the plaudits from Saturday night – and rightly so – but none of that would’ve been possible had the FC Dallas defense not logged its fourth shutout in their last eight home games.
That defense, one of the leakiest in the league over the first three months, has quietly tightened up over the second half of the year with just 12 goals allowed in their last 14 games. It seems to be a different hero on the backline each game, and against Vancouver, it was Rookie of the Year candidate Matt Hedges who led the back four.
“He could very well be the man of the match,” Schellas Hyndman said of his young defender. “He had a handful dealing with [Barry] Robson, [Kenny] Miller, and Camilo is not an easy player to play against if you’re a defender. He’s probably one of the more tricky players in the league so we needed him and George John.”
The duo of Hedges and John not only held the Whitecaps off the scoreboard, but kept Vancouver without a shot on goal in the first half, cutting out the final pass and making key blocks on shots. However, it was in the second half that the rookie from UNC really stepped up his game.
According to Opta, Hedges led all players with 21 combined interceptions, clearances, blocks and recoveries with 14 of those 21 coming in the second half.
“I thought he played very well,” John said afterward. “We played really well in the back, and had great communication going between the two of us.”
A wrench was thrown into the works in the 74th minute as John was forced to come out with a twisted ankle, moving right back Hernán Pertúz centrally, but Hedges didn’t miss a beat.
“It wasn’t a big change,” Hedges said. “I’ve played with both George and Hernan in the middle, so it was not a big difference for me at all.”
Perhaps it was fitting that after de Guzman’s goal, it was the rookie defender who first met the Canadian in the celebratory dogpile.
“It’s huge for the team to get those three points in that way to bring us closer to the playoff race,” He said afterward. “I think it’s massive for us.”