Doneil Henry finds himself in a much better place physically and mentally than he was a year ago.
Last year at this time the Vancouver Whitecaps defender was in England rehabbing a torn anterior-cruciate ligament. He went more than 15 months without playing a game and his career was hanging in limbo.
“I’m definitely in a better place and a better environment,” Henry said this week as the Whitecaps prepared for Sunday’s Major League Soccer game against the Colorado Rapids at BC Place Stadium. “The best thing is I’m injury free.”
Henry has started the past three games at centre back for Vancouver. He was one of the few players to perform well in last week’s 4-0 loss in Philadelphia, which ended a six-game unbeaten streak.
“We were winning and ate a little bit of humble pie,” said Henry. “We have to go back to doing the hard stuff, the stuff you don’t get glory for. That’s where character is shown.”
Henry, 25, could be the poster boy for showing character.
Back in 2010, the Brampton, Ont., native become the first player signed by Toronto FC developed in the club’s academy program. He would go on to make 73 starts for Toronto in 93 first-team appearances, scoring five goals.
Henry was Canada’s U-20 player of the year in 2012 and has more than 20 caps with the senior men’s team. In 2015 he went to Europe to join West Ham United. He played one game then was loaned to Blackburn Rovers. His season ended after three games with a hamstring injury.
The next year he was loaned to Danish club AC Horsens, but Henry tore his ACL in his second game.
“There were a lot of hardships I dealt with,” Henry said. “It was a test of my character. I continued to stay strong and faithful in the process.”
Vancouver acquired Henry last December. He played some exhibition games before being loaned to the Ottawa Fury FC of the United Soccer League for conditioning.
Henry’s first game as a Whitecap was Vancouver’s 2-1 win on the road against Colorado on June 1.
The struggling Rapids come to Vancouver with a win and draw in their past two games after losing eight straight matches.
“We never lost confidence throughout that run,” defender Tommy Smith told the Colorado website. “We just carried on doing the right things.”
At 6-foot-2 and 180-pounds, Henry has size and speed. He’s comfortable on the ball, capable of starting the Whitecaps’ transition game and is a tough tackler.
Head coach Carl Robinson said Henry is the kind of player he likes having on his team.
“Doneil nearly had his career taken away from him,” said Robinson. “He’s been at the bottom. He knows what it feels like. He doesn’t want to go back there, that’s why he puts in the hard work and now gets the rewards.
“As a player you don’t learn that until it’s either taken away from you, or nearly taken away from you. Some don’t realize it at all until it’s too late.”
Henry went to Europe as a young player full of swagger. He’s returned a little older, wiser and with a better appreciation of the game.
“Sometimes the game can be really cruel to you,” he said. “I don’t take any of this for granted. I have played top-flight football. I know what it takes.
“Sports is all about staying relevant. I was irrelevant for two years because of injury. I’m happy to be with this club. They have treated me really well since I’ve been back here.”
The Canadian Press