Q & A: FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges
Matt Hedges transferred from Butler to North Carolina for the 2011 soccer season. He was a stalwart on the Tar Heels' back line, starting all 26 games, and registered six goals and an assist on the road to a national championship. FC Dallas of Major League Soccer took Hedges with the 11th pick in January's SuperDraft, and he hasn't looked back. I caught up with Matt via phone last month.
TW: What’s the transition been like since January?
Matt Hedges: Its been a quick transition. Going from the college game to the professional game is a lot different. It’s a lot more demanding physically and mentally and you just have to live that professional lifestyle. In college, you were just going to class and playing, but now you have to take care of your body, there’s so much more to it. Everything’s different, but it’s been great.
Did you get a sense of that when you transferred from Butler to North Carolina, with different demands on your time at different places?
It was a little different. The whole college game is class and then practice, so there’s not a whole lot of difference, but there were definitely more demands at North Carolina. It’s an elite program, so you had to be at your best all the time. I think that transition did help me for the future transition to the pros. It was good.
Has playing professional soccer lived up to the expectations you had?
It’s been everything I hoped it would be. It’s awesome. That’s the only way I can describe it. It’s my dream come true.
What’s a normal day like for you?
You get up in the morning at like 8:45, and head into training. Training starts at 10 normally. It’ll be over by 12:30 or 1. You’re in the training room to get an ice bath, and then basically after training, you’re just trying to take care of your body and get ready for the next game. It’s not all glamour, but it’s fun. I love it. I can’t complain about it.
You have to think of taking care of your body as your full-time job, because that’s your vessel, right?
Absolutely. Your body’s your career. If it’s not functioning right, you’re not going to get the job done and they’ll find somebody else to do it. Every day you’ve got to make yourself better.
Did you find out early what it would take to maintain that for 10 or 12 years?
We have guys, Daniel Hernandez and Kevin Hartman, who’ve been in the league for 16+ years, and I think you just watch what they do and the way they take care of their bodies. They’re in there for two hours every day, just making sure they’re ready for the next day, and I think that's kind of rubbing off on me. I stick around the training room a lot, just trying to stay healthy all the time. I’m not going to last forever, but you want to try to prolong it as long as possible, and I think taking care of your body is the most important part. Learning from those guys I think will be really helpful.
How is the locker room dynamic?
We’ve got a lot of South American guys, so they don’t all speak English, so I’ve been learning Spanish quickly. Sometimes it’s a little tough to communicate with them, but it’s a fun time. A lot of the guys are really funny, but at the same time, on the game field, it’s 100 percent serious all the time. They don’t mess around. I enjoy it, because I’m a serious player.
There are a lot of players competing for a spot on the field, but is there a system in place, even unofficially, for guys to bring each other up to speed?
Oh yeah. The veteran guys are always there to help you out, especially with me in my rookie year right now. Some of the older guys have been really helping me, getting me up to speed with what I need to be doing and how I need to get it done, so I can’t say enough about how much they’ve helped me in the few months that I’ve been here.
Do you talk with your old college teammates (Ben Speas and Kirk Urso in Columbus, Enzo Martinez with Real Salt Lake) about the adjustment to the professional game?
I do talk to them, like Ben and Kirk a lot, but it’s not really about the adjustment, it’s just kind of as friends. We’re just keeping tabs on each other, how we’re doing and that stuff. We don’t really talk about all the adjustments that we’re doing, we’re just talking how friends talk.
What is it like playing with another former Tar Heel, Zach Loyd?
He’s a great player at right back. He works hard every day, and he’s been helping me a lot with my communication. He’s been really helpful and he’s a cool guy and I really like him. We don’t talk a lot about North Carolina. I think that’s kind of the past now. We’re at the professional level now, so we’ve got to kind of focus here, but it’s cool that I’m playing next to a guy that went to the same school I did and has the same kind of experiences I did, the Final Four and stuff.
If you’re a substitute, what do you learn from watching the game, and what do you try to do when you do come on?
Watching from the bench, you’ve got guys like Ugo Ihemelu and George John, and I think I just try to watch them and see what their habits are and how they’re adjusting to play. I think that’s been really helpful. I got a start against Seattle and I think I did well and watching those guys was really helpful to me to adjust to the speed. Coming in as a sub, it’s a little bit harder because you’ve been on the bench for 70 minutes, just warming up on the sideline, not knowing if you’re going to take part in the game. Then, when they call your name, it’s pretty exhilarating, but at the same time you’ve got to be ready to do your job. For those 20 minutes, you’ve just got to work as hard as you can and try not to make a mistake, but it’s a lot tougher coming in as a substitute. It’s been tough, but at the same time, getting on the field, whatever it takes, I want to be on the field.
Do you have to be careful to try not to do too much and find your place in the flow of the game?
Right, you’ve just got to try to get in touch and get up to the speed of the game, because as a substitute, that’s the hardest part. Coming off the bench, you haven’t really gotten touches, but at the same time you don’t want to try to do too much. You just want to try to find the flow of the game and do your job the best you can.
Lastly, how did it all come together for your team to make the championship run last fall?
We had great players and great team chemistry, and I think it all just came together at the right time. At the beginning of the ACC Tournament until the end of the NCAA Tournament, we played some absolutely fantastic soccer. I think the team had the right kind of potential, because we knew we could do it, we just had to get the performance right and I think at that time period it was awesome. It was a special moment for us and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I will always be friends with those guys because of what we went through.
Thanks to Matt Hedges for speaking with us. Since this interview, Hedges has started five straight games and registered two goals. You can follow him on Twitter at @Matt_Hedges.