Who is Oalex Anderson? The Seattle Sounders youngster set up his team's last-second equalizer on Sunday against Houston. Now, get to know more about the St. Vincent and the Grenadines international, in this profile from last week.
Original Text – April 8, 2016
TUKWILA, Wash. – Every year on Christmas Day, the village of Barrouallie on the small Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines hosts a five-on-five, small-goal soccer tournament.
The round robin event starts early – around 8:30 in the morning – and runs until around noon, when a champion is crowned and the rest of the day gives way to a holiday celebration. The teams are largely comprised of the village youngsters, with the participants generally around 14-15 years of age.
In his younger days, Ezra Hendrickson used to play in that tournament. This was before he embarked on a lengthy professional playing career that would see him become a 12-year MLS veteran and long before he landed his current position as the head coach of S2, the USL affiliate of the Seattle Sounders.
Hendrickson grew up in the nearby village of Layou – which also happens to be Barrouallie’s chief soccer rival. He has 123 career caps for St. Vincent’s national team and still travels to his home country each year to visit his mother and take in the Christmas Day tournament as a spectator. It was on one of those visits that Hendrickson first came across a young Oalex Anderson.
Anderson was just 15-years-old the first time Hendrickson saw him play in Barrouallie’s Christmas tournament, but he immediately became enamored with Anderson’s raw talent and physical gifts. At the time, Hendrickson was working as an assistant for the Sounders under current Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid – his coach for Columbus Crew SC, where he played from 2006-2008.
“I didn’t know who he was at the time and he didn’t know me,” Anderson recalled of his initial meeting with Hendrickson. “After the game, I played really, really well and he came to me and my mom and said, ‘Your son has great potential.’ We stayed in touch throughout the rest of my high school years.
“He kept asking about me, how I’m doing and all of that. He promised my mom that one day he would get me out of [St. Vincent].”
Hendrickson’s original idea was to have Anderson attend Seattle University to play collegiate soccer. But Anderson, then 17, suffered a setback that thwarted that plan: a broken leg that rendered him unable to play in what would have been his freshman season.
In 2014, Anderson played for Grenades FC of the Antigua and Barbuda Premier Division, where he scored 12 goals in 18 appearances. When the Sounders announced the formation of S2 before the start of the 2015 season and Hendrickson was hired as the head coach for the team’s inaugural campaign, he saw an opportunity to bring his protégé back.
“Once S2 came along, one of the first people I called was [Anderson’s] mom,” Hendrickson said. “I just said, ‘I don’t know if you remember me’, because by then, it was three or four years later. I told her I had this new position and I would like to bring [Anderson] onto the team. The rest is history.”
Last season, Anderson made 16 appearances for S2 at the age of 19 and scored four goals in 758 minutes. More importantly, he put his explosive athleticism on full display against USL opposition, doing enough to convince the Sounders he deserved a shot with their MLS side in the process.
Last month, the Sounders announced they had signed Anderson to their first-team, making him the second S2 player to make the jump to the Sounders after fellow forward Andy Craven did so part-way through last season. He has already managed to find his way on the field as a substitute three times in Seattle’s first four games.
As expected, Hendrickson has taken a pronounced role in facilitating Anderson’s development as he adapts to the game at the professional level.
“It’s like a father-son relationship,” Anderson said. “He always comes to me and tells me what to do, what the coaches expect of me and all of that. He keeps pushing me. It’s like, what I do in training is never enough for him. But that’s good.”
Hendrickson says he sees no reason why Anderson can’t become a full-fledged MLS starter sooner rather than later, in part due to the extensive experience he has already accumulated that is atypical for a player his age.
In addition to his time with the Sounders, Anderson has become a crucial component of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines national team. He has 10 goals in 20 appearances at the international level and even scored his country’s lone goal against the US national team in a World Cup qualifier last November.
All of this experience is juxtaposed by the fact that he’s undergone just 18 months of formal coaching, something that Hendrickson says makes him believe that Anderson isn’t even close to scratching the surface of what he is truly capable of.
“At 20, he’s had a lot of international experience,” Hendrickson said. “He’s not a typical 20-year-old.
“The best part about him is he’s a very hard worker. Some guys, you see the talent, you see the potential, but they don’t really train hard. He’s not like that. He’s a ball rat. He just wants to play and he loves the game.”
As enticed as they are with his innate gifts and rapid development, the Sounders know Anderson’s development as a professional is still in its early stages. Last weekend in Seattle’s 1-0 victory against the Montreal Impact, Anderson provided Sounders fans with an apt illustration of the immense talent he possesses, but also an equally apparent example of the type of decision-making he needs to refine as his game continues to develop.
Schmid brought Anderson on as a 68th-minute substitute with the hopes that he could provide some offensive fireworks in a match that was locked in a 0-0 tie. Just 10 minutes after Anderson entered the game, forward Clint Dempsey put the Sounders up 1-0 with a headed tally off a corner kick. In the 82nd minute, Anderson almost sealed the victory in spectacular fashion.
After receiving the ball near midfield, Anderson made a brilliant, highlight-reel move to split two Impact defenders and bolt into the acres of open space that lay behind them. As he charged down the field virtually uncontested toward the Montreal penalty box, he was flanked by three open teammates – most notably fellow rookie forward Jordan Morris, who was sprinting down the left side unmarked, waving his arms furiously and screaming at Anderson to pass the ball.
But Anderson kept the ball a touch too long, giving a Montreal defender enough time to swoop in and dispossess him before he could manage a shot or a pass, a golden chance at his first MLS goal or assist slipping away.
“Oalex, I guess the best term is he’s wonderfully unpredictable,” Schmid said this week. “He’s got pace, he’s got all this magic, pulls of the little one-two that he pulled off to get through on that play. It was fantastic.
“But then, he’s also a young player and sometimes you’re not sure what’s going to go on. He’ll learn. It’s a big difference playing in front of 2,000 people, then all of the sudden you’re playing in front of 40,000. But he’ll learn, he’ll mature and he’ll make better decisions.”
Growing pains aside, Anderson’s rise is resonating in St. Vincent, an island of a little more than 100,000. Just three games into his MLS career, he has achieved a level of stardom in St. Vincent that Hendrickson said already surpasses what he experienced during his playing career.
Credit: USA Today Sports Images
Hendrickson says that his hope is that with continued success at the MLS level, Anderson can help facilitate additional growth of the game in the country.
“It can go a long ways,” Hendrickson said. “It can open eyes for other leagues to start saying, “OK, maybe there’s some other talented players in the country.’ So he can spark that kind of awareness from, not just MLS, but leagues throughout the world.”
For now, Anderson’s sights are set on making a name for himself with the Sounders, with more opportunities in the cards as Schmid evaluates his forward depth behind starters Nelson Valdez, Dempsey and Morris.
“Everyone [in St. Vincent] supports me. My family, friends, coaches, everyone motivates me,” Anderson said. “It’s the least I could do, is just make a name for myself over here and make everyone proud of me back home. That’s what I’m trying to do.”