Ken Kimber is encouraged by the Fire’s hiring of coach Ezra Hendrickson. Few people have been a part of more winning in Major League Soccer than Hendrickson, and Kimber hopes that knowledge of the league will help the Fire.
That isn’t the only reason Kimber, a member of the Black Fires supporters group, likes the choice of Hendrickson, who is the Fire’s second Black head coach. Denis Hamlett was the first.
‘‘Just as a Black soccer fan, it just shows that hard work pays off,’’ Kimber said. ‘‘Ezra is one of the most accomplished coaches and players in general that are in the league. So to actually see him get an opportunity, then to actually see him get an opportunity in Chicago is really big in terms of the rich history that the city has in terms of . . . African Americans or people of the Caribbean or African diaspora.
‘‘And just in terms of soccer, it’s the continuation of a rich history of Black engagement with the Fire that we’re all excited for — hopefully not prematurely. Hopefully it’s a sign of great things to come.’’
Hendrickson, 49, has been part of numerous great teams in American soccer. He’s also part of a small club that should be bigger.
During the 2021 season, there were only two Black head coaches in MLS, with Robin Fraser leading the Colorado Rapids and Wilfried Nancy in charge of CF Montreal. As Kimber said, Hendrickson — who was born in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — had to work hard to get his chance, despite being a part of winners at every stop of his career.
At his introductory news conference, Hendrickson revealed his in-person interview with the Fire was the first he had for a head-coaching gig. He also said it’s a ‘‘great thing to have minority leadership in organizations because I think sometimes you’re not represented as well as you possibly should [be].’’
‘‘For me, if any coach of minority standing can see this as aspiration, see this as something to look forward to, then that’s great because I think there are some great minority coaches out there,’’ Hendrickson said. ‘‘So if I can be an inspiration to any of these coaches, that makes me happy and that helps me feel better about, you know, being here now. Because, like I said, having minority leadership in an organization is a good thing for all organizations.’’
MLS seems to have recognized that. On Dec. 7 — after Hendrickson’s arrival in Chicago — the league announced enhancements to its minority-hiring policy that first was implemented in 2007. Teams now must have two or more non-white finalists for open sporting positions, and one must be Black or African American.
That could help address an issue Kimber highlighted: a lack of opportunities for Black coaches to climb the ladder.
‘‘People aren’t given the opportunity from the very beginning to get into coaching,’’ Kimber said. ‘‘You don’t get to work your way up that pyramid.’’
Hendrickson has, and Kimber is eager to see him on the sidelines next season.
‘‘He’s the perfect guy that should get a shot,’’ Kimber said.