Back at BMO: Doneil Henry opens up about highs and lows of 10-year career

Doneil Henry - Vancouver Whitecaps FC - Close up

TORONTO – These days nothing fazes Doneil Henry.

Not a disappointing Gold Cup exit with Canada; not a lost season with his club team already eliminated from the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. 

Ahead of Canada’s match against Cuba in the Concacaf Nations League Saturday at BMO Field, the Vancouver Whitecaps defender was back at his old digs: Toronto FC’s BMO Training Ground.

It wasn’t called that back when he trained there every day, but his picture still hangs on the wall as one of the Homegrown players to sign a professional contract with the club.

He left TFC to sign for West Ham United by way of Apollon Limassol in Cyprus, but a series of injuries hampered his career before one nearly ended it.

“I had three surgeries in two-and-a-half years,” Henry said. “You get called ‘injury prone,’ but the knee was the one where, if you don’t recover well, if the surgery doesn’t go as planned, you’re done: you can never play at the highest level, you can never play top football again. That really stuck with me for a time.”

“Depression? Yes. Getting over that mentally? Yes,” he continued. “And not being able to see playing again, especially after the surgery and having to go through the long process – it took over a year until I was able to play – and then feeling good.”

He was sidelined from October 2016 to April 2018. 

“This year I’ve been able to stay in the team, play for long stretches with travel and all of that,” Henry added. “I trust the process. I’m also very thankful for the opportunity to continue to play and do what I love.”

So when asked where he could find motivation for the remainder of the season with the Whitecaps’ playoff hopes dashed, Henry needed none more than that.

In that darker place he faced a choice.

“There’s two ways to go about things,” reasoned Henry. “It’s always easy to quit, use it as an excuse: I had a knee injury, that’s why I don’t play anymore. I used to be mad, especially when I was younger, mad at people who critiqued me or said that I couldn’t play. I always wanted to prove them wrong, but I’m not motivated or focused by those means anymore.”

“Everything I do is to better what I did today for tomorrow,” he said. “Talk, injuries, all those things are a part of the game, it just built up my mental strength, having my family around, or pushing myself, pushing my mentality to a different level of where I want to go.” 

So when Canada lost to Haiti in the quarterfinal of the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup, a defeat that admittedly left a “bitter taste” in the mouth, Henry frames that as a necessary setback: “Without games, without those experiences you cannot grow.”

It was not so much the defeat as the means in which it came, having taken a solid lead in the first half, only to crumble and concede three come the second.

“The fashion in which we lost,” lamented the defender. “We need to be able to have a full, rounded 90 minutes and what comes with it. Building a winning culture here is something that we need to do.” 

As he looked back at the wall, Henry realized he’s not that fresh-faced teenager in the picture anymore.

“I didn’t have a beard; you can see the stress of a 10-year professional,” smiled Henry. “It’s really cool to see how far I’ve come and where I still want to go.”