During the height of the COVID lockdown in 2020, a friend and fellow youth coach sent me a very excited text. He had just attended an online coaching seminar, where a speaker had just spent 90 minutes breaking down a particular player’s game, from a tactical and technical standpoint. The speaker clearly knew his stuff, but he was also dynamic and engaging. He made those coaches want to jump through their Zoom screens and immediately get to work. My friend was blown away.
“This guy was amazing,” he wrote. “He needs to be a head coach somewhere, right now.”
Now, he’ll get his chance. That speaker was Ezra Hendrickson, who, as we broke to the soccer world Wednesday night, will be the next head coach of the Chicago Fire. A source at the Fire told me Hendrickson also blew away Sporting Director Georg Heitz and his staff during the interview process.
The response from the larger soccer community has been overwhelmingly positive. A guy who’s spent his adult life in and around MLS as a player and coach will, at 49-years-old, finally get a shot as an MLS head coach. It’s long overdue.
Good for Ezra. He's put in plenty of time to get his chance. What will the front office do with the roster is the next question? #CFFC #MLS https://t.co/W0O3mjX0vU— Taylor Twellman (@TaylorTwellman) November 18, 2021
Good newsbreak here. Ezra Hendrickson has put in a lot of great work over the years. https://t.co/OSOHVlw8rG— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) November 18, 2021
But from Fire fans, the reaction has been positive, but a bit more reserved. Some fans are wondering why, once again, the club needs to be a proving ground for a first-time MLS head coach. After losing seasons under Raphael Wicky and Veljko Paunovic before him, that’s a fair criticism. Both of those guys ended their playing careers with a handful of games in MLS. Hendrickson played in MLS for 12 seasons (and was even a teammate of Jonathan Bornstein at Chivas USA in 2006), and then never really left. He may originally be from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but Ezra’s an American soccer staple at this point. He knows this league.
For fans who are disappointed it’s not Bob Bradley: I’ve said this before, but that was never happening.
If you’re still skeptical, look at the responses on Twitter from fans of the Columbus Crew, LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders. At all his former stops, they still love the guy.
Dammit! I really don’t want to root against Ezra. You guys lucked out. We’ll miss him in Columbus. I wish all the best until they play The Crew!— Todd Sroufe ⭐️⚽️⭐️ (@CbusTodd) November 18, 2021
In MLS, more than other leagues, it’s about inches, not feet. The league is built on parity, meaning you can finish out of the playoffs one season, and win MLS Cup the next (just ask the Crew). A good coach who knows this league like the back of his hand can be the difference. Look at Robin Fraser’s Colorado as a perfect example. Fraser took a Rapids team that finished 11th in the West in 2018, and started a steady climb. Ninth in 2019 in his first season, then fifth in 2020, then first in 2021.
Don’t get me wrong, the quality of the players still matter. Hendrickson likely would have struggled with the 2021 Fire roster. But give him something to work with in 2022, and Hendrickson might finally be the guy to bring a consistent winner to Chicago.