In the MLS Rookie of the Year race, Matt Hedges is locked neck and neck with Chicago defender Austin Berry as the season winds down. When it comes to FC Dallas, however, Hedges' recent performances have pushed his 2012 campaign from a good season to the best rookie year in franchise history.
Let’s take a look at the top five rookie seasons in FC Dallas franchise history and how Matt Hedges’ year compares:
5 – Ryan Suarez (2001)
Suarez was drafted by the Dallas Burn seventh overall in 2001 as an NCAA All-American right back out of San Jose State. He quickly broke into the starting lineup and kept his spot for most of the season making 20 appearances.
He logged two goals and three assists on an offensively loaded team that made the playoffs and logged 1666 minutes played, a rookie record that was only just broken by Zach Loyd in 2010. Unfortunately, Suarez was never really able to build on the potential he showed during that rookie year, struggling with injuries and bouncing around the league before drifting into obscurity.
4 – George John (2009)
Selected 14th overall by FC Dallas in the 2009 Superdraft after a celebrated career at the University of Washington, George John worked his way into a revamped FC Dallas back line originally playing next to Dallas native Drew Moor.
When Moor was traded mid-season to Colorado for current FC Dallas captain Ugo Ihemelu, a center back partnership that took FCD to their first MLS Cup was born. Ihemelu and John built the foundation of their partnership through the last two months of 2009 and hit the ground running in the famous FC Dallas 2010 season. John’s 15 starts in his rookie year is tied for fifth-most in franchise history.
3 – Aleksey Korol (2000)
For whatever reason, there has never been a rookie in franchise history with a breakout offensive campaign, but the best offensive rookie campaign goes to plucky Ukranian forward Aleksey Korol. Drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2000 after a prolific collegiate career at Indiana University, Korol finished third on the team in scoring with five goals, still the rookie franchise record.
He would be traded to the Chicago Fire in 2002 and struggled with knee injuries, bouncing around the lower leagues of American soccer. He is currently an assistant coach at University of Illinois-Chicago.
2 – Zach Loyd (2010)
It took Zach Loyd all of one game to earn the starting spot for FC Dallas and he still hasn’t relinquished it. Drafted fifth overall by FC Dallas in 2010, Loyd quickly became a fixture on the backline for that famous FC Dallas side.
In his 2010 rookie season, Loyd would go on to make 24 appearances including four in the playoffs with 86 minutes played in MLS Cup 2010. His 1769 regular season minutes played broke Suarez’s record and was broken by Matt Hedges just last Sunday in FCD’s last game at Chivas USA.
1 – Matt Hedges (2012)
Many eyebrows were raised around the league when the defensive anchor of the UNC Tar Heels, Matt Hedges, fell all the way to FC Dallas at number 11 in the 2012 Superdraft. Schellas Hyndman and staff were over the moon to grab their man that late in the draft and for good reason, as we will see.
It’s tough to deny that Matt Hedges’ 2012 campaign has been the best in rookie franchise history. When Ugo Ihemelu went down with a concussion in May, Hedges was called upon to fill the role and since making his first start on May 9, the UNC Tar Heel has played in every game for FCD including 90 minute performances in 18 of the last 22 matches.
Not only has Hedges stabilized a defense in flux, forming a dominant center back partnership with George John as FC Dallas has made a late playoff push, he’s also provided a scoring punch from the back at huge moments. Matt’s three goals are tied for third most on the team and all three goals have put FC Dallas ahead in their matches.
In last Sunday’s match at Chivas USA, Hedges set franchise records in games played, games started and minutes played, going 90 minutes in the draw. Whether or not he earns the MLS Rookie of the Year award, in 2012 the 22-year-old has solidified his starting spot on FC Dallas for years to come and, if he continues his development, could be getting a future call from Jurgen Klinsmann and the US National Team.