CARSON, Calif. - Through the first three months of the club's existence, one of Chivas USA's most respected players is neither American nor Mexican. He's not even Hispanic, for that matter.
Major League Soccer veteran Ezra Hendrickson has provided guidance and leadership to the fledgling club from the beginning. Lately he's truly been leading by example: Hendrickson, one of three players who has started each of the Red-and-White's 16 games, has picked up some of the scoring slack under coach Hans Westerhof.
His second-half strike against San Jose on June 12 helped Chivas USA gain just their third tie and sixth point of the season. A late first-half goal against the Chicago Fire one week prior gave Chivas USA a momentary lead though the club eventually dropped that game.
But it is beyond the pitch where Hendrickson's value really pays off. Ever the optimist, the St. Vincent native is always keeping players' spirits high.
"He's like spiced rum," said defender Ryan Suarez. "He's all about livelihood and enjoying life, never taking things too seriously. He's a great professional and trains hard and never complains."
Throughout Chivas USA's disastrous start, Hendrickson has seemingly found ways to keep spirits high. When the club finished April without having won, Hendrickson pointed to other teams in MLS history who started slowly and reached the playoffs and the MLS Cup. And when Thomas Rongen was stripped of his coaching duties, Hendrickson failed to blame Rongen for the slow start and instead put the onus on the players.
"The guys have looked at me as a leader from the start," Hendrickson said. "I'm someone who's going to keep the morale of the team and make sure the locker room stays confident and stays positive. It hasn't been easy for us."
Perhaps Hendrickson has had the most influence of any other Chivas USA player on the field. He's the only player to have played in all 1440 minutes, tops in Major League Soccer.
His versatility has paid off; under Rongen he provided runs and crosses from the right back position while Westerhof moved Hendrickson into the midfield (where he scored both of his goals) and back to defense.
His perseverance and willingness to accept the coach's decisions is something he hopes other players pick up on.
"(Wherever) the coach wants me to play, that's where I'll play," Hendrickson said. "If that's where the coach thinks I can best help the team, then I'm willing to do that."
Playing maximum minutes is one of Hendrickson's goals.
"I want to play every minute of every game," he said. "If there's a game where the coach takes me out, I might be upset because I want to play that game. I love this game. I'm 33 but I don't feel 33. Thank God I never had any injuries or anything. I'm feeling great and as long as I'm feeling that way and keep getting the job done I'm willing to continue playing. If it means every minute of every match the rest of the season, so be it."
Putting in a workmanlike effort on a daily basis is his modus operandi but part of that effort is geared towards helping groom youngsters into professionals.
"If I go out there and put that kind of effort, those guys see that especially the younger guys," Hendrickson said. "Those guys are like 'Hey, if he's 33 and putting in that kind of effort over 90 minutes then why can't I?'"
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.