- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Ezra Hendrickson has been in big games before, and that’s a blessing for D.C. United.

With United captain and rock-steady center defender Ryan Nelsen sidelined for an accumulation of yellow cards for Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference final Saturday at RFK Stadium, Hendrickson gives the club an experienced presence on its back line when it matters the most.

Hendrickson, who was acquired June23 in a minor trade with the Dallas Burn, may be called upon to anchor the middle of United’s three-man back-line defenseSaturday against the New England Revolution.

As is his policy, United coach Peter Nowak won’t reveal his starting lineup. However, he will be hard-pressed not to include Hendrickson, an eight-year MLS veteran.

“It’s not a situation where I’m a rookie. I’ve played in quite a number of these conference championships and three MLS Cup finals, so I have the experience and I have been there,” Hendrickson said. “Nerves, or anything like that, is not going to be a factor. It’s just a matter of me going out and executing and fitting into that role of what a central defender does on this team. I’ve showed that I can do that in games previous to this year and I’m ready to go on Saturday.”

Aside from Hendrickson, there are only four other United players — midfielders Ben Olsen and Dema Kovalenko, defender Brandon Prideaux and forward Jaime Moreno — who have been this deep in the MLS playoffs.

Nelsen will be difficult to replace. United went 4-5-4 in games he missed either because of national team duty or injury. Hendrickson’s inclusion may soften Nelsen’s absence.

At 6-foot-3, Hendrickson can clear most balls in the air, and his long legs can help redirect dangerous balls on the ground. In a crucial game on Oct.9 at the MetroStars, Hendrickson filled in for the suspended Nelsen and turned in a stellar performance in United’s 1-0 shutout win that moved the team closer toward clinching a playoff for the first time in five years.

United went 2-2-4 in league games the versatile Hendrickson started along the back line. He also can play a wide midfield role and as an outside back.

“Ryan is the best defender in this league as far as I’m concerned and he’s the leader of our team, but if it’s not, it should be on everybody’s mind already that he is not with us, because it’s the reality of it,” United defender Mike Petke said. “Ezra has a lot of experience, I think he has been to the conference finals almost every year except last year. Every time that I’ve played with him this year, we’ve worked fine together. It’s been very comfortable as recently as a couple of weeks ago in New York. He’s capable and ready to step in there.”

As a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy, Hendrickson appeared in three MLS Cup finals, the 2001 U.S. Open Cup championship and the 2000 CONCACAF Champions Cup final. In 2001, Hendrickson was named the Galaxy’s MVP.

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