A few years back, at the height of his MLS career, Ezra Hendrickson kept Bob Marley close to his heart.
Tucked under his Los Angeles Galaxy jersey was a color-splashed T-shirt with a picture of the reggae legend. When the noodle-thin defender scored a goal, he would start his celebration by lifting his formal green-and-gold garment and share his joy with the Caribbean icon.
On two occasions, feeling out of rhythm at halftime, he changed into his Marley undergarment; both times he scored.
"Bob came through," Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid deadpanned after one of Hendrickson's melodic goals.
These days, as the newest member of D.C. United, Hendrickson has turned down the volume a bit to appreciate the harmonious pleasures of being back in MLS after being waived by Dallas in the preseason.
"I haven't worn that in a while," he said, when asked about the thinning T-shirt. "It played itself out after a while. It was good for one year. Now I'm more mellow. I'm not that wild guy running and celebrating as much."
Hendrickson, 32, isn't from Jamaica, Marley's homeland, but the reggae pulse spread throughout the Caribbean when he was growing up in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a group of 32 islands and cays with a population of 117,000. He has been the captain of his national team for many years and will lead the squad into the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying next month.
His tribute to the tropics now is marked by only a wristband highlighted by the blue, gold and green of his country's flag. "Sometimes it doesn't match what I have on," he said with a laugh, "but it's just to let everyone know that they're in my heart, they're in my mind."
Hendrickson was signed by United two weeks ago to fortify a defensive unit with adequate talent but inadequate depth. Three days after joining the club, he became a last-minute starter and played all 90 minutes at Dallas on June 26 after Brandon Prideaux was sidelined by a minor injury. Last weekend against New York/New Jersey at RFK Stadium, he entered in the 57th minute for the hobbling Mike Petke. He'll likely be a second-half option again tonight when United plays the Kansas City Wizards at Arrowhead Stadium.
Hendrickson's experience is among many reasons United expressed interest in him. At 6 feet 3, he gives the club desperately needed height in the penalty areas in offensive and defensive situations. But Hendrickson is best known for his daring runs out of the back to spark the attack, a trait that has labeled him as a defender in name only; he's really a multidimensional midfielder who covers a lot of ground on the right flank.
"He still has speed. He's a great addition," Coach Peter Nowak said. "He gives us a lot of options on the right side now."
Hendrickson, who played at Drake University, began his career with the MetroStars in 1997, but after being waived, he spent the next six years with the Galaxy and had 17 goals and 25 assists between 1998 and 2002. His finest moments might've been in 2001, when he scored twice in the championship game of the CONCACAF Champions Cup at the Los Angeles Coliseum to give the Galaxy a 3-2 victory over Olimpia of Honduras. Later that year, he had a goal in a 2-1 win over New England in the U.S. Open Cup final.
But midway through the 2003 season, the Galaxy began to make changes and shipped Hendrickson to Dallas in a multiplayer deal. He started 15 games for the Burn, but when Dallas made a coaching change, Hendrickson was off the roster. He began 2004 with the Charleston (S.C.) Battery in the A-League, the top minor league circuit, but before long, United came calling.
His role here, however, won't give him as much flexibility as early in his career.
"Pretty much I'm here as a defender," he said. "The usual overlapping runs that I'm accustomed to making are not going to be much more, but I'm content with that because I'm here to be one of the three in the back that mainly stays home. There are going to be those occasional runs when the situation presents itself, but it's not going to be like that where I'm attacking a lot."
United Note: D.C. midfielder Bobby Convey as well as Kansas City midfielder Kerry Zavagnin and forward Josh Wolff will miss tonight's match in order to play for the U.S. national team vs. Poland tomorrow in Chicago.