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He’s Back on Easy Street

Times Staff Writer

Five days after Ezra Hendrickson got married, the Galaxy gave him a belated wedding present -- it traded him to the Dallas Burn.

That was early last year, not long after Hendrickson, or “E.Z.” as he is known, had helped the Galaxy win the 2002 Major League Soccer championship as one of the more attack-minded defenders in the league, a player who had become immensely popular in his six seasons in Los Angeles.

Things didn’t work out too well in Dallas. After one season, he was released.

Too expensive, said the Burn.

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The league does not reveal player salaries, but most range from $24,000 to about $250,000.

No other MLS team wanted him -- primarily because of his hefty salary -- and Hendrickson was surprised to find himself playing for the Charleston Battery in the A-League for a fraction of his MLS salary.

Then along came D.C. United.

On Wednesday morning, after training at the Home Depot Center for Sunday’s MLS Cup 2004 against the Kansas City Wizards, the lanky captain of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines national team talked about the rise and fall and rise of Ezra “E.Z.” Hendrickson.

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“I never really knew what happened, it caught me off guard,” he said of his departure from the Galaxy. “I had just gotten married and had just bought a house here in L.A., thinking that I was probably going to spend the rest of my time here because I had been somewhat successful with the team.

“But five days after I got married I got the call saying I was traded. I didn’t like it, but that’s a part of the business. I liked California. I liked the fans here. But when management says you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. So I just basically got up and left.”

Dallas, a perennial also-ran, was never going to work out. The Burn failed to reach the playoffs in 2003 and Hendrickson again found himself out in the cold.

“The coach got fired and my contract was up,” he said. “They weren’t willing to pick up the option. They claimed that the salary would be too high and they didn’t really see paying a right back that much money. So I found myself in March without a team and just looking and hoping to get an opportunity.”

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That chance came when D.C. called and offered Hendrickson the way back into MLS for a much smaller salary but with a more generous and guaranteed contract for 2005.

“So, eight months later, I find myself right back here in L.A. where my career really took off, playing for yet another championship,” Hendrickson said.

“It’s been a very rough year for me. It’s been hard for me since leaving L.A. My wife is from the area and she really likes it here and we probably are going to end up moving here once I retire. We just had a beautiful baby daughter in October.

“So the year started off bad and it was difficult at times, with the uncertainty and having a pregnant wife and not really knowing what your next move is going to be. But I’m here now and I’m thankful to D.C. for giving me that opportunity because that’s all I asked for.”

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Fellow defender and D.C. United captain Ryan Nelsen of New Zealand said Hendrickson, 32, has been a huge boost to the team in its drive for the title.

“He’s just been absolutely enormous for us, I reckon,” Nelsen said. “He’s a fantastic guy in the locker room. He’s an excellent, excellent player, he’s versatile, he’s experienced, he can play in a number of positions. I can’t imagine the team without E.Z. at the moment.

“The influence he’s had in the locker room and on the field has been awesome. He’s been to like four of these [championship games]. I think L.A. and Dallas and Charleston have given up on something special because no matter his age he’s been fantastic for us.”


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