Chicago

Ezra Hendrickson passes chemistry test in first year with Fire

Ezra Hendrickson’s first season as a head coach with the Fire was certainly educational. He had previously worked with three teams as an assistant.

Hendrickson stated that he learned many things as a first-year coach shortly after the 2022 season was over.

Hendrickson displayed some weaknesses during the season and some strengths that can be used as a foundation for 2023.

He likely waited too long before deciding to play Jhon Duran at striker over Kacper Przybylko, who was struggling. This decision cost the Fire points and goals. Hendrickson’s coaching was not well-respected after he wasted a pair home 2-0 leads that were turned into 3-2 defeats. The Fire weren’t able to simultaneously attack and defend well. It was almost as if one team member was doing well and the other was struggling.

The plus side was that Brian Gutierrez and Duran, both young men, took steps in the right direction. The Fire had a solid back line and gave a glimpse at Hendrickson’s vision.

Hendrickson is also confident in the culture he instilled during his season.

The best example of this was the Fire’s response to their 3-2 loss at Soldier Field to Crew on July 9. After a 2-0 lead, that was the first of two home losses. The season’s obituaries were already being prepared shortly after the last whistle.

The Fire didn’t give up and gave up, instead, they won five more games, including four wins, to stay in the playoff race. Hendrickson stated that a team with poor culture would not have been able recover the way they did.

“We showed some resilience,” Hendrickson said. “We displayed some team chemistry and showed some fight that was possible. . . Enjoy a good run of games, where we bonded as a team and accomplished what we had set out to do.

“In that aspect of keeping a cohesive team, a collective group that believes and supports each other, a collaborative group that believes and supports what you are doing, that is what we excel at, that is what we do.

However, winning is the next step in making this culture permanent.

Hendrickson is a three-time MLS Cup winner and has played with three teams throughout his playing career. When the wins don’t come, a constructive culture can only go so far. It is often destroyed when there are many losses.

Hendrickson believes that it didn’t happen in 2022, the fifth consecutive season when the Fire were out of the playoffs.

Hendrickson was pleased with the Fire’s performance down the stretch and credited them for not giving up, even though they failed to make it to the postseason. Late road ties against Crew and the Revolution were encouraging to Hendrickson, which would have been better if the Fire had not needed three points.

Hendrickson stated that “in the growth of culture and team as a whole it’s been really great this year.” “We have made some progress. We are making progress towards where we want to go. Things are moving in the right direction, rather than down.

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