Chris Henderson is an amiable gentleman, accomplished footballer, enviable Major League Soccer executive, and for the record, still loves Colorado. The twice over Rapids’ star and 2007 Gallery of Honor inductee is well connected to former Rapids’ greats and past ownership. He credits much of his success to them.
He spoke with the Burgundy Wave before a Sounders’ practice session during a busy MLS Cup week.
Henderson as a player
A native of Washington State, Henderson kicked off his soccer career at the age of five. “I played every day, even when I was sick.” His father coached him during his final two years in high school and his play earned him a scholarship to play for Sigi Schmid at the University of California Los Angeles and made appearances with the United States Youth National Team. He helped UCLA win an NCAA title in 1990 and as a 19-year-old, he was a member of the 1990 United States World Cup squad. Two years later, be played for the United States Olympic Team. Henderson competed for the U.S. National Team on every level from U-16, U-20, Olympics, Youth World Cup, and World Cup. In 1993, he captained the United States Men’s National Team in a pair of friendlies.
His pro career was launched in 1994 when he played with Germany’s FSV Frankfurt and Norway’s Staebak in 1995.
In 1996 he became an ‘original member’ of Major League Soccer when the Colorado Rapids, under the ownership of Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, named Henderson a ‘Discovery Player’.
His playing career in the MLS skyrocketed. He started as a midfielder for the Rapids during the 1996-98 seasons and again from 2002-2005 after a brief stint with the Kansas City Wizards and Miami Fusion. Henderson is Colorado’s all-time leader in assists with 53 and ranks third all-time behind Pablo Mastroeni and four-time MLS Cup player, Drew Moor in games played. He featured in two MLS All-Star games. He scored 51 goals during his storied MLS career.
Henderson starred in two MLS Cup Finals, first was with the Rapids in 1997 and his second with 2000 Cup winner, Kansas City Wizards.
Getting into the Front Office
Henderson retired in December 2006 and then started a brief, one-season coaching run as an assistant with the Wizards. He worked under former USMNT and Rapid teammate Peter Vermes, then the Wizards’ Technical Director. Vermes was tasked with building out the infrastructure for Kansas City’s soccer operations. His role as chief architect caught Henderson’s attention. ”I could be good at that,” Henderson remembers thinking. It motivated him to pursue a technical management capacity in a front office.
In Colorado, the Rapids were under new ownership—Kroenke Sports Enterprises with Fernando Clavijo as the head coach and Jeff Plush as Managing Director. Clavijo and Henderson were USMNT teammates in 1994 and Henderson was their target for Technical Director. A deal was almost struck, but at the same time, the expansion team Seattle Sounders came calling and recruited their home state star to join the club as the first Technical Director.
“Washington is home, my parents were here as were my two brothers. I grew up here,” Henderson explained. After his first meeting with passionate Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer, “I knew things were going to be big in Seattle.” He went on-board in January of 2008, and success soon followed.
Henderson’s success with Seattle
Today, as the Sounders’ Vice President of Soccer and Sporting Director, Henderson has amassed 11 years of accomplishments on and off the pitch. He credits Peter Vermes for opening his eyes to a career in the ‘Front Office’ and former Rapids’ owners Philip and Nancy Anschutz, who both demonstrated deep interpersonal skills and relationships with Rapids players and staff. Henderson appreciated and admired the Anschutz couple. “Phil really cared about his team and people. He would come into the locker room, knew everyone’s name, and made you feel part of his family. A real personal touch as an owner.” Henderson has borrowed many of these genuine traits, approach to business operations, and passionately applies them in Seattle.
Henderson said: “Humility and hard work is part of our formula for success.” As the architect of the Sounders’ culture and style of play, Henderson’s handprints are all over the Sounder’s youth development program, approach to first team player scouting and recruitment, soccer operations, coaching decisions, and player personnel and management. He talks daily with team’s President, Garth Lagerwey and Head Coach, Brian Schmetzer.
Henderson personally trots the globe in search of talent. He soaks up games and brings back lessons from training sessions that he observes abroad. The lessons learned percolate from the first team all the way to the youth teams. He has developed a system of assessing talent field position by field position that marries with the ‘Sounders’ Way,’ He methodically conducts player due diligence and validates decisions with data analytics and reels of film.
Last but not least, he is also a rather capable representative of greater Seattle’s Chamber of Commerce, as he is responsible for showcasing Seattle to his prospects during his roundabout tours of the Emerald City.
His collective approach has paid huge dividends and winning ways, signing the likes of Obafemi Martins, DeAndre Yedlin, Clint Dempsey, Fredy Montero, Mauro Rosales, and Osvaldo Alonso.
This season the Sounders’ earned their 11th-in-a-row playoff berth, an MLS record. They have a trophy case that is packed to the gills. In 2016, they won the Cup and have played in two other MLS Cup Championship finals. Their fourth final is set for this afternoon before an expected crowd of 69,000 vibrant fans in Seattle’s massive CenturyLink Stadium. Unprecedented.
During this MLS Cup week, Henderson avoided touching and being photographed with the actual Philip Anschutz MLS Cup that was on display at several Seattle landmarks. Call him superstitious. He did say, “But I can’t wait to hug it after we win.” And when they do, that will be another feather in his cap.
As for his beloved Colorado Rapids, Henderson said that his former Rapids’ teammate, Robin Fraser “is the best head coach that the club has hired,” and predicts great things to happen under his mentorship and direction. And that will be a feather in every fan’s cap.