FC Dallas faced something of a transition in 2019, with Oscar Pareja leaving the club after four years. Matt Hedges, however, is a familiar face, having played for the Texans for the past nine seasons. He is a stalwart at Toyota Stadium and so is in a good position to evaluate what has changed at the club over the past six months.
FloFC caught up with the 29-year-old to discuss that change of management at FC Dallas, the first half of the 2019 season, the franchise’s lack of MLS Cup success, the USA’s Gold Cup campaign, the USWNT equal pay movement, the most underrated player in MLS, and more.
FloFC: How difficult was it for everyone at the franchise to get used to life without Oscar Pareja?
Matt Hedges: It’s never easy when you lose a coach who had been an icon for the club and had been there a long time. But Luchi had been around the club and everybody already knew him so it wasn’t that difficult. Obviously he brings a new style and a new energy so that took a bit of getting used to after getting into a bit of a rhythm with the old coach, but I feel like it didn’t take that long. Everybody picked it up quick. He brought a lot of positive energy so that helped a lot.
Pareja brought his Xolos side to Dallas for a friendly game recently. Did he come into the home dressing room before or after for a chat? What did he say?
He was here on Sunday, yeah. It was good to see him. We saw him in the hallway outside the locker room so we had a chat and just said hi. He’s always really focused on when there’s a game. So we were just chatting and catching up a little bit. He was our coach for a long time so it was really good to see him.
How does the new head coach Luchi Gonzalez differ from Pareja?
Style-wise, he wants us to play more than any coach we have had before. He wants us to always have the ball — passing, combining, stuff like that. I really enjoy that style of play. He’s a really positive coach. That’s not to say that our past coaches weren’t positive, but Luchi always seems to find the positive in every situation.
Sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference, how do you feel about the first half of the season for FC Dallas so far?
We have had our ups and downs. We were trying to get used to the new system at the beginning of the year. Now, I feel like we’re getting into the flow of things. I feel we’ve done alright. Fifth place is probably fair with how we have played over our games. I feel like we can keep improving and be in the top half of the Western Conference and get into those playoffs and then do well towards the end of the season.
FC Dallas have never won MLS Cup. Does that ever feel like a burden? Does that increase pressure on the players?
It seems like it gets brought up a lot by media people, but I don’t feel like it’s something that weighs on us. Obviously every year every player wants to win the cup, that is always our goal, but it’s not something we think about in the locker room and go ‘oh man, FC Dallas has never won our cup.’ A lot of the guys in our locker room have only been here for two or three years. If we don’t win it this year, we want to win it next year. It’s not something that we think about a huge amount.
What do you think FC Dallas’ best qualities as a team are right now? And where do you need to improve?
I think we’re one of the best in the league at possession soccer, playing out from the back, we have done well with that. We create a lot of chances as well and can probably improve on finishing those chances. The last few games especially we have created a lot. If we can get our finishing a little bit better, I think we’re going to be a really strong team going towards the end of the season.
As a U.S. international yourself, how would you evaluate the USA’s Gold Cup campaign?
I thought they played pretty well. There were things with the new coach that they could always improve, but learning that system, you saw throughout the tournament how they played. I thought the first half against Mexico was fantastic. We put a couple of those chances away and you’re a couple goals ahead at half time. We saw what is possible from this U.S. team now. They get a couple guys with injuries back and get firing on all cylinders and it’ll be looking good.
Is breaking back into the national team roster an immediate target for you?
I’m just trying to go out and play my best every day and if I get chosen for the selection that’s fantastic. If not, I respect the coach’s decision.
A big talking point in U.S. soccer right now is the equal pay movement for the Women’s World Cup-winning USWNT. As a past member of the USMNT, do you support them in this effort?
I support whatever they’re trying to get. If they want to get paid more if they think they should be then I’m going to support that because I know if we went out there and tried to get paid more they would be supporting us. The Women’s World Cup was certainly as big of a deal as the men’s, at least for me. I watched some of the games and I enjoy the style of football.
Who is the best player in MLS right now?
Carlos Vela, definitely. He’s been in the best form and is probably the best player in the league, for sure. That’s my opinion at least having had to play against him twice in the last couple of months.
As a center back, who’s the most difficult attacker to play against in the league?
Yeah, again it’s probably Carlos. His movement is fantastic and he’s always in dangerous spots. When he has the ball he’s always going to find the right pass or make the right decision. That’s a tough one to play against him.
Who is the most underrated player in the league at this moment?
He’s starting to get a little bit more recognition than before, but I think it’s Diego Chara. Defenders and defensive midfielders don’t normally get as much recognition as the attacking players, but Chara has been fantastic for the whole time I’ve been in the league. He’s the engine that brings that Portland team. He has a ton of energy, he covers a lot of ground, but he also gets into tackles and is in the right spot almost every time. There’s barely any time when we watch videos and he’s out of position.
Have you visited the National Soccer Hall of Fame since it opened at Toyota Stadium last year? And if so, what’s your favorite exhibit?
I’ve been a couple times. There’s a lot of really cool trophies and obscure stuff there. There are some old U.S. Cup medals… I like the old New York Cosmos jerseys. They’re fascinating from the old NASL before it folded. My wife really loves the women’s national team stuff. It’s cool to see the history of the game in this country.
Graham Ruthven is a soccer writer based in the U.K. He has written for the New York Times, Guardian, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, and others.