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Final

Hendrickson's hurricane hardships

Judging by his recent lack of appearances for the Black-and-Red, D.C. United fans might think veteran defender Ezra Hendrickson has fallen off the map. And in a way, they are right.

Hendrickson hasn't played for United since their 2-2 draw in Columbus on Aug. 21, having spent much of that time stuck in airports or on the trainer's table, dodging hurricanes and hamstring injuries.

As Hendrickson juggles his United career with his duties as captain of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines national team, he has racked up copious frequent flyer miles.

"It definitely increases your chance of getting injured," he said. "If you're traveling from here to St. Vincent, there's no direct flights. I go through Miami and then Barbados, and the planes are really small. Me being a taller person, it's cramming up, so it increases your chances of pulling a hamstring, stuff like that. You've got to be careful."

St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a small, secluded island nation (pop. 117,193) in the eastern Caribbean, have punched above their weight in reaching the group stage of World Cup qualifying, due in no small part to the leadership and steady play of longtime skipper Hendrickson.

Even as he recovered from a hamstring strain, he left D.C. on Sept. 1 to join his national squad as they trained in St. Vincent. The team was scheduled to travel to Pachuca for a daunting matchup with powerhouse Mexico on Sept. 4, then return home to host St. Kitts and Nevis four days later.

But a devastating succession of storm activity in the Caribbean threw that schedule into disarray. Hurricane Frances hit south Florida as the Vincentians prepared to depart for Mexico from Miami, forcing the match's postponement. Then deadly Hurricane Ivan swept through the eastern Caribbean, narrowly missing St. Vincent only to savagely strike Grenada, killing more than 30 and damaging 90 percent of the island's buildings.

"It's one of those things: you're there, and you get all these reports that the eye of the storm is heading directly towards you," said Hendrickson. "By the grace of God we were saved, and it somehow went south of us. But it didn't spare the people in Grenada, and you see what happened to them. There was some panic, but we didn't get the worst of it."

The St. Kitts match was delayed two days as regional travel was disrupted, forcing Hendrickson and his teammates to wait helplessly while antagonizing their club sides.

"There were some problems because we were gone for an extended period this time, not being able to get back out," he said. "A lot of clubs are not willing to let guys go out again. A situation beyond our control, a hurricane, kept us for an extra week, but clubs don't really understand that. Their concern is just having their players with them."

The frustrating absence not only took "EZ" away from United's late-season stretch, it also affected life at a vital time in the Hendrickson household.

"My wife is eight months pregnant right now," he says, "and being away from your team in the thick of a playoff run, being stuck in a country where there's a hurricane -- you can't play the game, and you're basically just sitting there and waiting."

St. Vincent and the Grenadines finally took the field on Sept. 10, defeating St. Kitts and Nevis 1-0, and Hendrickson quickly returned to Washington to rejoin his club, where he is eager to play a part in United's recent resurgence.

"I'm healthy and ready to go again," he said. "Getting back here and finishing out the season with D.C. is my focus right now. All of our (remaining) games are against Eastern Conference teams; we basically control our own destiny. It's a matter of peaking at the right time.

"I'm happy to be back, and I'm ready to contribute wherever the Coach [Nowak] needs me."

Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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