Ezra Hendrickson passes chemistry test in first year with Fire

Hendrickson is confident in the culture he instilled during the 2022 season.

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Ezra Hendrickson completed his first year with the Fire.

Courtesy of the Fire

Ezra Hendrickson’s first head-coaching season with the Fire certainly was educational, teaching him some new lessons after he had served as an assistant with three teams.

‘‘As a first-year coach, I learned a lot of things,’’ Hendrickson said shortly after the 2022 season ended.

During the season, Hendrickson showed some weaknesses to improve on and some strengths to use as a foundation entering 2023.

He probably waited too long to start Jhon Duran over struggling Kacper Przybylko at striker, a decision that cost the Fire goals and points. Squandering a pair of home 2-0 leads that turned into 3-2 losses didn’t reflect well on Hendrickson’s coaching. And the Fire were never consistently able to defend and attack well at the same time. It seemed as though if one part of the team was doing well, the other probably was sputtering.

On the plus side, youngsters Duran and Brian Gutierrez took steps forward. The Fire had a generally dependable back line, and their strong start at least provided a glimpse of Hendrickson’s vision.

Another area Hendrickson seems confident in is the culture he instilled during the season.

Perhaps the best example of that was how the Fire responded after their 3-2 loss to the Crew on July 9 at Soldier Field. That was the first of two home defeats after holding a 2-0 lead, and the obituaries for the season were being written soon after the final whistle.

Instead of capitulating, however, the Fire were unbeaten in their next five games — including four victories — to get back into the playoff picture. Hendrickson said a team with a poor culture wouldn’t have been able to recover the way they did.

“We showed some resilience,” Hendrickson said. “We showed some team chemistry, and we showed some fight that we were able to . . . go on a nice run of games where we just bonded together as a team and did what we set out to do from the start of the season.

“In that aspect, keeping a cohesive group, a group that believes in each other, a group that believes in what it is that you are doing, we are very good at doing that.”

The next part of making that culture permanent, however, is winning.

Hendrickson, an MLS Cup winner with three teams during his playing career, knows that. A constructive culture only goes so far when the victories don’t come, and it routinely comes undone when losses pile up.

Hendrickson doesn’t think that happened in 2022, the fifth consecutive season in which the Fire missed the playoffs.

Even though the Fire again failed to reach the postseason, however, Hendrickson liked how they played down the stretch, crediting them with not giving up. He was encouraged by late road ties against the Revolution and Crew, results that would’ve looked better if the Fire didn’t need three points from those games.

“In the growth of the culture and the team as a whole, it’s been really good this year,” Hendrickson said. ‘‘We have shown some progress. We are showing that we are on the right track to where we are trying to be. I would say that things are looking up rather than looking downward.”

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