Learning the ropes: Toronto FC's Doneil Henry making major strides in third professional season

TORONTO – Life has been pretty good for Toronto FC central defender Doneil Henry lately.

After not playing very often earlier in the season, the 20-year-old Toronto native has recently solidified his place in Ryan Nelsen’s starting 11, built a relationship with burgeoning mentor and TFC captain Steven Caldwell, and established himself as a cornerstone of the team's emerging young core along with such players as Matías Laba and Jonathan Osorio.

It also doesn’t hurt that TFC are currently on a three-game winning streak in league play and that the young Canadian international got to wear the captain’s armband for first time as part of the senior team during Toronto’s midweek friendly against AS Roma.

“I’m confident right now,” Henry told MLSsoccer.com. “I was with the Canadian national team and did well and started all the Gold Cup games. My coach is showing a lot of confidence in me and I think with the playing time I have been getting that it is getting better and better for me.”

According to the TFC Academy graduate, the success that he and his team have enjoyed in recent weeks has buoyed a Toronto FC squad that is feeling confident and very much like a side that is really hitting its stride.

With Toronto’s next opponent being the Seattle Sounders (Saturday, 7 pm ET, watch on MLS Live), the team on everybody's minds, Henry and his teammates will be facing off against a team that has been buoyed in a different way by the recent acquisition of their latest Designated Player, US international Clint Dempsey.

But Saturday’s match ultimately represents just another episode in the ongoing education of a supremely talented player whose job is shutting down the top attacking players in the league week in, week out.

Henry, who counts Thierry Henry, Alvaro Saborio, Fabián Espíndola and Marco Di Vaio among the hardest players to defend in the league, sees his ongoing progression as one in which he simply has to train hard and play consistent games towards seeing his match experience and football IQ becoming commensurate with his athletic gifts.

“I know that a big upside to my game is how fast and strong I am,” Henry said. “It is a part of my game and I like that edge. I just have to keep growing in the game and, as I keep playing, with repetition I will keep getting better.”

Now playing in his third season with his hometown club, Henry still remembers a time when he was almost as green as the kit that Dempsey and the Sounders wear.

“I will never forget the game when I played against Motagua [in a CONCACAF Champions League qualifying match] when I was 16 or 17 years old,” Henry said. “The Honduran, Emilio Izaguirre, schooled me for the entire 33 minutes that I played.”

With significant experience at both the international and MLS levels under his belt, it is now Henry who is dominating other players on a regular basis. Still, the 6-foot-2 defender sees himself as someone who will be a student of the game for a long time and as a defender who must be focused on preparation and on improving his game in both the short and long term.

“Going into a game, I like to do a lot of stuff on my own, watching video and studying the tendencies of players,” Henry said. “We do that as a team, but I like to do more on my own to make sure that I can use my strengths to get the opposing attacking players off their games.”