Technically Speaking

If Zidane ever sets foot in Seattle, Chris Henderson will be ready for him.

If Zidane ever sets foot in Seattle, Chris Henderson will be ready for him.

When the first players begin arriving next autumn, Henderson, the newly-minted MLS Seattle technical director, intends to make a powerful, positive first impression.

“We want to be a successful team from the very beginning, and there are many things we can do as an organization to prepare for that before we even pick a team,” says Henderson, whose vision of the team operation is quite clear, right down to the devilish details.

There’s little wonder why general manager Adrian Hanauer would tap Henderson for his first hire. He’s played at the international level, overseas and, perhaps most importantly, in Major League Soccer for 11 years. What’s more, Henderson is homegrown, a native of Everett and graduate of Cascade High.

“First off, Chris is highly respected within Major League Soccer and he’s a great person,” says Hanauer. “The fact that we could bring one of the most successful soccer players to ever come out of the Northwest back home, was a bonus.”

Hanauer looked around and talked to other candidates, yet Henderson’s qualifications trumped the competition.

“I like having people involved in the organization who have ties to the area, and who will have enormous pride to help make Seattle a world-class franchise,” adds Hanauer. “Finally, we wanted someone who was not too far removed from playing in MLS. Chris has played with or against almost every player in the league. This should give us a great base of knowledge for recruiting, scouting and drafting players.”

Been There, Done That
After retiring as a player with 317 MLS games and 80 U.S. national team caps to his credit, Henderson spent 2007 as assistant coach at Kansas City. When he resigned in early January, rumors soon circulated that he was heading home.

Soon after, he was seen alongside Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer at the MLS combine, serving as a consultant. A few days later, his role became permanent.

“For me, this is a dream job, to come back and not only be part of an MLS organization, but also be part of something from the very beginning,” Henderson says.

For those players–O.K., so maybe Zidane is a reach–who are bound for Qwest Field, Henderson intends to be mighty hospitable.

Seattle will become synonymous with true class and professionalism. Signees and draftees are to be greeted with a jersey and scarf, an information packet on the club and the city, phone numbers of a realtor and the team administrator.

During his career, Henderson has made six stops in MLS alone. It seems he made copious notes of his experiences along the way. Often times he was surprised by how teams treated him, and it was not always for the better.

“As an ex-player, going through pretty much every scenario you could imagine–being traded in the offseason, being traded in-season–there are not a lot of things I haven’t faced. That will definitely help in dealing with players today.”

A Year in the Life
Henderson’s year in Kansas City was enlightening. Former U.S. international Peter Vermes, the Wizards’ technical director, essentially gave Henderson a crash course. Under new ownership, the team began building for the future, including a new training center.

It has the requisite locker room, training room and offices, outfitted with internet and plasma TVs. Among the amenities are a gym, kitchen, lounge, equipment room. Outside are three lighted fields–bluegrass, Bermuda and FieldTurf­ covering the range of MLS surfaces and all lined in dimensions consistent with the stadium at which the Wizards play that week.

“They started with nothing and now have a beautiful training center. That is our goal here, and that’s the first thing we need to get going on.”

Hanauer said Tukwila’s Starfire Sports Complex is under consideration for the location.

Although there are 12 months before the team’s first training camp, there will be some long days and nights ahead. Henderson will work with Hanauer in developing a youth program, scouting network and standards for everything from pregame speeches to video analysis to the aforementioned player packet.

“Our technical staff–the coaches, trainers, equipment managers; the whole soccer side–will set a certain standard of professionalism that we will expect of the players,” says Henderson. “If we do things right, the players are going to feel like all they need to do is go out and perform.”

Raising the Standard
Standards are ever rising throughout the industry. Thirty years ago, the Sounders trained at Renton Stadium and the Kingdome locker room was considered palatial.

When Henderson arrived for the MLS launch in 1996, there was no technical staff, per se. Just a couple coaches fumbling with VHS tapes and using white boards.

Nowadays, it’s pregame PowerPoint presentations and elaborate video systems enabling the coaches to email each player a comprehensive collection of clips on each of possessions and passes before the next training session.

Nobody in North America can match Who’s Who technical staffs at Bayern Munich or Manchester United, or Real Madrid’s 100-strong team, which includes a phalanx of life coaches, dieticians and massage therapists. But in terms of technology, Henderson says MLS teams are the equal of any club in the world. They are also fast gaining ground in terms of training techniques and evaluating talent.

“In the last several years, the difference in Major League Soccer is incredible; it’s like night and day,” says Henderson. “Everything’s going in the right direction.”

Ultimately, becoming a world-class club is impossible unless you win, both big and often. Behind every such club is a world-class technical staff.

That staff will never make a single save nor score a goal. However, using whatever means possible, they will put together and prepare the team to do just that.

Maybe all the details and preparation will only influence a single play.

“But maybe it’s that play,” says Henderson, “which makes the difference between winning and losing.”