Chris Henderson: A Journey From Youth Soccer to MLS

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Chris Henderson:  A Journey From Youth Soccer to MLS
Dave Kaup/Getty Images
Chris Henderson is shown in action while with the Colorado Rapids.

Chris Henderson currently serves as Technical Director for Seattle Sounders FC. His is a storybook journey beginning with his roots in youth soccer, to a national championship at UCLA, to U.S. National Team status and finally to MLS stardom.

Henderson began playing soccer at five and it was no surprise. He came from a family in Everett, just north of Seattle, where soccer was highly prominent.

His father Dick was his coach at Cascade High during his last two years. This is the same high school that also produced famous football coach Dennis Erickson.

The family included another prominent soccer player as well.

His brother Sean would be a teammate of Chris’ at UCLA.

Chris’ abilities obtained a berth for him on the U.S. Youth Soccer National Team. In 1989, the U.S. squad achieved higher honors than any that came before it.

Also on that team with Chris was a prominent player with whom he is now associated with the Sounders, veteran goalkeeper and current MLS All-Star, Kasey Keller, a fellow pacific northwesterner who  played his college soccer at Portland University.

“We made it all the way to the semifinal round,” Henderson reminisced while taking a break from a Sounders practice in Tukwila. “The international tournament took place in Saudi Arabia. We lost to Nigeria 2-1 and then to Brazil 2-0 in the third place game.”

Not long after Henderson divulged that nostalgic tidbit he moved over to the area of the practice facility where goalkeepers train. He reunited with former U.S. National Youth Team member Keller as he delivered some bullet-like kicks toward the goal, giving the veteran a chance to keep them out of the net.

He did the same for Keller’s backup, Terry Boss. Henderson has maintained competition weight and looks like he could don a Sounders uniform and move instantly into game action.

Henderson went south to UCLA to play for the coach, who now directs the destinies of the Sounders, Sigi Schmid. In Henderson’s second season of 1990, the Bruins won the NCAA title.

Henderson’s soccer education was enhanced playing under Schmid, who began coaching UCLA at the age of 27, then went on to a successful career in the MLS.   

Was his initial experience with Schmid as a player helpful in coordinating efforts with him currently as a coaching assistant and the team’s chief scout?

“Yes, it helps because I understand his methods,” Henderson said, “and his approach is basically the same as when he was my coach at UCLA. His foundation is based on the principles of the great basketball coach John Wooden, who was a legend at UCLA when Sigi was playing soccer there. He followed the basic principles of Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success with the emphasis on teamwork.”

The NCAA title win was a big thrill to Henderson. The game itself was a thrill to all who saw it.

“The year before we had been eliminated by Santa Clara in the 1989 regionals,” Henderson recalled. “Unfortunately the game was played on a field that was covered with water.”

The saying that “good things come to those who wait” was apt in the case of Henderson, and in this case the reward took but one year to materialize.

“In 1990 our championship match with Rutgers in Tampa was a real thriller,” Henderson remembered. “Regulation play ended in a scoreless tie. We finally won in four overtimes.  It all came down to penalty kicks. I remember kicking third and making it. I really felt a sense of relief. So we won on penalty kicks and were champions. What a great moment that was!”

Henderson’s college soccer career ended with that sophomore season NCAA championship triumph.

“I continued my schooling at UCLA, though, and got my degree,” Henderson revealed. “I majored in history and was happy that I finished my education at UCLA.”

Meanwhile, Henderson began spending a lot of time in the beautiful Southern California communities of Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach. His reason did not have to do with absorbing lovely scenery, however, but was soccer related.

Henderson was working out with the U.S. National Team. He would become a fixture on it from 1990 until 2001. Meanwhile Henderson had returned home long enough to put in one season as well with the Seattle Storm of the Western Soccer League.

The talented midfielder played with the U.S. National Team between 1990 and 2001.  During that time he earned 79 caps. At 19, he was the youngest member of the 1990 U.S. World Cup Team and was also a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team that played in the Barcelona Games.

The adventurous Henderson spent part of his productive nineties period playing in international professional ranks. He spent 1994 and 1995 playing for FSV Frankfurt. From there he was on to Norway. He trained with Staebek during the winter and was there for parts of the 1995 to 1996 period.

After that it was back to the United States and the most lengthy and productive phase of his professional career. Chris became a part of the pioneer phase of the newly developed Major League Soccer organization.

This stage began in 1996 with the Colorado Rapids.

“When you see the league and how it operates today it is interesting to look back and contrast it with those early days,” Henderson noted. “I remember those early facilities. You would go to a public park. You would share the facilities with youngsters playing baseball or businessmen there to play a recreational game of tennis. You would share the shower and locker room facilities with these people from the local area. Often they would say with genuine surprise, ‘You mean I’m sharing the locker room next to a guy who’s a professional soccer player?’”

The early days also provided an economic challenge as MLS fought to remain afloat while the product was being introduced to American sports fans.  

“Three owners kept the league alive during those early days,” Henderson recalled.  “They were Lamar Hunt, Robert Kraft and Philip Anschutz.”

Henderson played with the Kansas City Wizards, a team that Anschutz owned.

“Philip Anschutz and I became friends,” Henderson revealed. “In fact, when I got married it was on Philip Anschutz’ ranch.”

Henderson’s career spanned a decade, beginning in 1996 and ending with his retirement in 2006. He performed during two different intervals for the Colorado Rapids, for the aforementioned Kansas City Wizards, as well as the Miami Fusion and Columbus Crew while concluding his career with the New York Red Bulls.

His most productive goal scoring seasons were 2002 with Colorado with 11 tallies and 2000 at Kansas City with nine. Also, in his first stint with Colorado, Henderson scored seven goals in his second MLS campaign in 1997.  

When Henderson retired he held a number of career MLS records, including number of games and minutes played.

The playing career of Chris Henderson allowed him to span the globe on the U.S. National Team and in the early phase of his professional career. From there it was on to the key early stages of Major League Soccer and a productive career spent in five cities.

Now Chris Henderson is back home where the journey began, helping Sigi Schmid to achieve success with the Seattle Sounders.

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