Hedges earns high praise in debut as FC Dallas captain

FRISCO, Texas -- Beginning just his third year as a professional, center back Matt Hedges has proven well worth the 11th overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. The young defender has already made 58 starts through 64 appearances with FC Dallas for a total of 5,085 minutes played. That combined with the seven goals he's scored in his short career is a big reason why Hedges wore the captain's armband for FC Dallas against Chivas USA on Saturday night.

"He’s leading us. That kid is leading us," head coach Oscar Pareja put it succinctly after FCD's win over the Goats.

"To be honest, that’s the most nervous I’ve probably ever been for a game," Hedges said after the game.

But those nerves didn't show in Saturday's match and Pareja was beyond pleased with his young captain's performance, offering perhaps the highest praise a professional soccer player can earn.

"I’m going to send a little message here: I think he’s ready to go and help us in the national team," said Pareja. "He’s a great leader."

Hedges' backline partner and MLS veteran Stephen Keel was quick to agree with his coach's assessment.

"Absolutely, I don’t see why not," Keel said of Pareja's USMNT recommendation. "[Hedges is] bringing that leadership quality that’s just going to take his game to the next level. It’s a pleasure playing next to him; it makes my job a lot easier."

The promise and potential Hedges continues to show should be very encouraging to FC Dallas fans, as the UNC product recently signed a multi-year contract extension that will keep the talented defender in Frisco for the foreseeable future. And the third-year center back is looking forward to honing his leadership skills over the next few years in FC Dallas colors.

"It’s a great honor to get [the captain's armband]," said Hedges. "I’m happy to keep moving forward and improving and hopefully wear the armband more."