CARSON, Calif. - Two years ago, Ezra Hendrickson found himself out of Major League Soccer. D.C. United eventually picked him up and Hendrickson made enough of an impression with the 2004 MLS Cup champion that he was taken by Chivas USA in the expansion draft.
Although Chivas struggled through its first season, Hendrickson resurrected his career and proved to be one of the club's most important players.
Success, however, has not exactly made Hendrickson complacent. Entering the 2006 campaign, Hendrickson is aware of the challenges facing him this year.
"It's a spot that's up for grabs, a spot that I have to win," Hendrickson said of his starting position from a year ago. "I don't think in any of the 11 positions anyone can say that it's theirs. If it was that way, the rest of us could just go home. It's a position that I'm going to have work for, a challenge that I have to face, and I accept that challenge. I'm just going to do the best I can, come out here and work hard every day."
A year ago, Hendrickson's success with Chivas was unmatched. He started 31 of 32 games, a stat equaled by Ramon Ramirez. However, the Caribbean native finished with a team-high 2,745 minutes. He also showed a scorer's touch, finishing with three goals, a figure matched by only one other returning player.
In the backline for most of his starts last year - whether as a center back or on the right - Hendrickson knows what it takes to win a starting spot and maintain it.
"I've proven myself over the years. This is my 10th season and I know that I can play that position. (But) I don't make that final decision. That final decision is made by (coach) Bob (Bradley) based on what he sees out here at practice," Hendrickson said. "The only thing I can do is give him my best every day and hopefully my best is good enough for him."
Hendrickson made his name with the Los Angeles Galaxy and helped the Galaxy to the 2001 CONCACAF Champions Cup crown as well as the MLS Cup 2002 title. A known commodity throughout the league, Hendrickson is a valuable presence to the fledgling Chivas franchise.
"Ezra's experience is important. We count on his experience every day," Bradley said. "We're still trying to see where to use him. He played more in the back last year. (Against the U.S.) we used him on the right side which is a position where he's played throughout his career."
What will help this year a great deal will be continuity. Chivas brought in several defenders during the offseason, including two-time Mexico World Cup veteran Claudio Suarez as well as MLS veteran Brian Dunseth.
A year ago, Hendrickson was easily the most experienced defender in Chivas USA's much-maligned rearguard. But last year's defense was anything but stable. Hendrickson was a given in the back; beyond that, it was a fluid defense.
"Last year we had guys going in and out," Hendrickson said. "It was always a different group of guys in the back and when your defense is unsettled like that it's hard because you don't really get to work with each other with an extended period of time and you don't get to know each other as well."
The hope this year is to have a steady, unwavering defense which will help Chivas remain organized on the field.
"If your back four is not cohesive, it's very hard to stay organized. With Claudio, that's going to help us as far as our organization with the back. He's a guy that's been to a couple of World Cups, is very experienced and can play," Hendrickson said. "Once Bob gets his backline settled, once we start playing with each other, we'll get to know each other better."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story is not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.