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Toronto FC bolsters backline by signing veteran free agent centre back Matt Hedges

Toronto FC, which tied a franchise record in conceding 66 goals last season, moved to bolster its defence Monday by signing free agent Matt Hedges to a two-year contract.

The 32-year-old has spent his entire 11-season career with FC Dallas and is the franchise leader in games, starts and minutes played. The six-foot-four centre back made 349 appearances in all competitions for Dallas, which in 2014 made him became the youngest captain in franchise history.

Hedges was named MLS Defender of the Year in 2016 and is a three-time MLS all-star (2017, 2018, 2019).

“Bringing a dominant centre back was one of our priorities during this off-season, and we are happy to have Matt joining our club,” Toronto president Bill Manning said in a statement. “He is an MLS Defender of the Year with a ton of MLS experience that will help lead our backline. His presence and leadership will be critical as we continue to build the roster.” 

His acquisition had been rumoured for some time given Hedges and his wife were seen at a recent Maple Leafs game. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment also owns Toronto FC. 

“Matt is a player with great character who brings valuable MLS experience to our group,” said Bob Bradley, Toronto’s head coach and sporting director. “He is eager for a new challenge and wants to be a part of what we are building here. We are happy to bring Matt to Toronto FC.”

Hedges is seen as helping fill the void left by the departure of Carlos Salcedo, a Mexican international who returned home in July after joining Toronto as a designated player in January.

Hedges’ contract, which includes options through 2026, involves targeted allocation money which can be used to sign a new player provided his salary is more than the maximum salary budget charge, which was US$612,500 in 2022. 

Hedges, who earned US$900,000 last season, scored at least one goal in each of his 11 seasons for Dallas, except 2020 where he only registered an assist.

A native of Carmel, Ind., Hedges was taken by Dallas in the first round (11th overall) of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. He played his collegiate soccer for Butler University and the University of North Carolina, helping the Tarheels to the NCAA championship in 2011.

He has won five caps for the U.S.

Toronto primarily used Chris Mavinga, Shane O’Neill and Lukas MacNaughton at centre back after Salcedo’s departure.

In recent days, Toronto has re-signed midfielder Jonathan Osorio and brought attacking midfielder Victor Vazquez back into the TFC fold.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press