There were few situations capable of prying Chris Henderson away from Seattle Sounders FC. However, when David Beckham and Inter Miami CF came calling with the opportunity to be the ground-floor architect, it was too good for the Cascade High School graduate to pass up.
Henderson, who as the Sounders’ sporting director played a big role in the franchise’s success during its first 13 seasons in MLS, was hired by Inter Miami last week as the team’s chief soccer officer and sporting director.
The move is a step up for Henderson, as he’ll be calling all the front-office shots the way Seattle general manager Garth Lagerwey does for the Sounders. And he’ll be doing it for a franchise that’s in its infancy — Miami made its MLS debut in 2020 — as well as an owner in Beckham who is an international soccer icon.
“I’m just really excited,” Henderson said when reached by cell phone Saturday in Miami. “This is a great challenge and opportunity. I think there are so many great pieces in place there, we just have to build it one piece at a time.”
Henderson is one of the greatest athletes ever to come out of Snohomish County. The 1989 Cascade grad led the Bruins to boys soccer state championships in 1987 and 1989, earning Gatorade National Player of the Year honors as a senior. He went on to a 13-year professional career in Germany, Norway and MLS, and he was capped 79 times by the U.S. men’s national team. In 2011 he was inducted into the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame.
Following his playing career Henderson joined the Sounders in 2008 as the then-expansion team’s technical director and later its sporting director. In that role Henderson was the team’s point man when it came to scouting and player recruitment. Among the players he’s credited with bringing to Seattle are Fredy Montero, Osvaldo Alonso, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz. With Henderson taking a lead role in roster construction, the Sounders made the playoffs every season and won the MLS Cup in 2016 and 2019.
As a result, Henderson is someone who’s been in demand. But it took a situation like Miami’s to finally lure him away from his hometown team.
“It was bittersweet to leave the Sounders after 13 years,” Henderson said. “Obviously my roots are there and I grew up there, so it was not an easy decision. There were just a few teams I would have considered leaving Seattle for and Inter Miami was one of them.
“(I believe in Miami) because of the ownership group and its commitment,” added Henderson, who played for Miami’s first MLS club, the Miami Fusion, in 2001. “When you go there the facilities are amazing, the training center is one of the top in the world right now. Everything is in place for the players to have success. The support is there, the resources are there, it’s just about getting a few of the pieces right and getting the chemistry right.”
Miami had a modest first season, going 7-13-3, finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference and losing it’s postseason play-in game to Nashville. Inter is performing something of a second-year reboot, bringing in Henderson and also hiring another former English soccer star, Phil Neville, as its head coach.
Henderson previously knew Beckham only in passing, and he had never met Neville. Now he’s working side-by-side with a pair of former Manchester United and England national team stars.
“When you step back, sometimes I think about it,” Henderson said about his famous co-workers. “It’s cool, it’s great. But when we start talking about the team and games and get into it, we’re all just talking soccer. I already feel we have a good rapport with each other, I think it will be good friendships along with good professional work relationships.”
While Henderson is off to try and build something in Miami, he’ll always appreciate his time with the Sounders, and he shared an anecdote of what his time as Seattle’s sporting director was like.
“After Kasey Keller retired we needed a new goalkeeper, and we had Michael Gspurning and his wife come over from Austria,” Henderson said. “It was one of those crystal-clear perfect 70-degree days in Seattle, and we were driving across Seattle and getting onto I-90. We come through the tunnel and we’re crossing Lake Washington looking at Bellevue, and on one side you can see Mount Rainier and the other side you can see Mount Baker. I could see Michael in the mirror, he looked at his wife and said, ‘We are moving here.’
“I saw so many players come through, and that’s the joy of the job, recruiting and selling players on coming to play for the team,” Henderson continued. “I loved those discussions and conversations, and when you finally get it over the line and pass it along to coaches, it’s such a great feeling. Then when they play well and are winning, that’s really satisfying.”
Now Henderson is hoping he can make the same magic happen in Miami.