FC Dallas' Matt Hedges stands tallest among MLS Week 22 defensive stars
Defenders had a good week in Major League Soccer, scoring goals and making important plays in their own defensive third as well. Few defenders in the league played both sides as well as Matt Hedges, who scored FC Dallas’ first goal and anchored the team to within five minutes of a shutout.
The 24-year-old center back has been gunning all season for a call-up with the United States national team, which he could receive during the annual January camp, if not sooner. Hedges maintained a presence in the box on attacking corner kicks as well as safe distribution ability that would work well in the possession system Jürgen Klinsmann says he wants to implement.
Hedges completed 90 percent of his passes against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, along with his goal in the 3-1 win. Defensively, he had a clearance off the goal line through the run of play just after halftime, when it was 2-0.
That sliding stop stymied Colorado’s newfound energy and momentum after the break, and when Fabian Castillo scored to make it 3-0 just a couple minutes later, the Rapids looked broken. Hedges continued to frustrate the away team, finishing with 12 clearances, four interceptions and three blocked shots. Until Gabriel Torres earned a penalty with five minutes left in the match and converted it for a consolation goal, Dallas seemed to be heading for a clean sheet.
Along with 10 other players, Hedges comprises the 22nd MLS Best XI of the 2014 season:
Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI — Week 22
• Stefan Frei (Seattle Sounders): When Seattle was still knotted at 0-0 with Houston, Frei came up big to save a penalty off Brad Davis’ foot. It was the most action he saw all night, but the save was vital in preserving the shutout.
• Omar Gonzalez (L.A. Galaxy): His performance against San Jose included all the elements in a classic Gonzalez game. He scored a goal on a header and had eight clearances on the defensive end, six with his head.
• Matt Hedges (FC Dallas): This week’s best player was a force on both sides of the field. Hedges scored the opening goal in a 3-1 win over Colorado and cleared a shot off the goal line.
• Chris Schuler (Real Salt Lake): Schuler scored two goals in RSL’s dominant win over D.C., also finishing with a pass completion rate of 91 percent. Along with Hedges, he could receive a look with the national team in the U.S.’s January camp.
• Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake): As usual, Beckerman recovered the most loose balls on his team – eight against D.C. – and marshaled the RSL defense from in front of the back line. He also only failed to complete two of his passes, including a perfect 29-for-29 in the attacking half.
• Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake): Morales finished with two assists against D.C., both on crosses to Chris Schuler, one from each side of the field. His contributions in the attack shut the door on any D.C. comeback at Rio Tinto Stadium.
• Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers): Another goal from distance from Valeri set the tone for Portland’s control over Chivas in a 2-0 win. It was his fourth goal in four games.
• Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia Union): Le Toux, the Union’s leading scorer, added both tallies in a 2-1 win over Montreal on Saturday. He missed his chance for a hat trick by narrowly missing over the crossbar just a couple minutes after his second goal.
• Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes): Wondolowski played a part in both San Jose goals in a draw with the Galaxy, scoring on his only shot of the game and assisting Matias Pérez García on his goal. He might not have been ever-present on the ball, but Wondolowski made his limited touches count in terms of his effect on the final score.
• Gyasi Zardes (L.A. Galaxy): In his second MLS season, Zardes has now scored eight goals in his last nine matches and has found the back of the net in each of the last three. The biggest area of improvement in his game from last year has been in his off-ball movement, exemplified in his goal against San Jose, crashing to tap in a Robbie Keane rebound.
• Luke Moore (Toronto FC): As the shadow striker underneath Gilberto, Moore played well between Columbus’ defensive and midfield lines on Saturday. He had assists on both of Toronto’s first two goals, and he scored the winner himself in the 84th minute on a diving header.