Melissa Henderson is one of a few regulars who remain on the field long after FC Kansas City practice sessions have ended. Those who stick around with her are part of a younger group — the next wave of Blues talent, so to speak — and together they work on finishing scoring chances.
The team’s coaching staff, most specifically head boss Vlatko Andonovski, uses the daily postpractice drills to analyze players’ moves and adjust their tendencies. Sometimes, though, he simply watches — especially when Henderson takes her turns in line.
“Wow, her first touch is amazing,” Andonovski said while observing Henderson this week. “The ball never ends up more than two steps from her. That’s why she’s so effective. It’s amazing to watch.”
During the last month, a variety of descriptions have been used to praise Henderson’s introduction to the FC Kansas City starting lineup. Andonovski calls her hard-working, fast and talented.
But one narrative has eluded Henderson, the striker in the Blues’ formation, and it’s perhaps the one she’s most eager to hear.
In seven starts with FC Kansas City, Henderson, 23, has been applauded for her play, but she remains without a goal — a fact certainly not lost on her as FC Kansas City travels to face Chicago at 3 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Henderson said. “You just want it so badly. But it’s not about me. It’s about our team and making sure we get results.”
So far, so good on those terms. FC Kansas City has lost only one of the seven matches Henderson has started, and it enters Sunday’s match in Chicago on a five-match unbeaten streak.
The Blues were impressed enough with Henderson that they shipped opening-night striker Renae Cuellar to Seattle two weeks ago. But things would certainly be a tad more comforting — at least for Henderson — if she were to find the back of the net.
She hasn’t been without good chances. The most recent scoring opportunity came last Sunday in a scoreless draw against Western New York. Henderson found herself alone with Flash goalie Adrianna Franch, but she rushed her shot, and Franch negated the danger.
“It was a through ball that I didn’t think would get through,” Henderson said. “It’s one of those that I’ve replayed back in my head a million times, and I would’ve done it differently every single time. All I can do now is look at that experience and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Henderson believes it’s only a matter of time before she notches the first goal of her professional career, and history would seem to back her assumption.
FC Kansas City worked hard to sign Henderson in February after she enjoyed a collegiate career at Notre Dame that included 70 career goals, fourth most in school history. A YouTube video featuring some of her best college highlights circulated social media two years ago. After her junior season, she was one of five players nominated for an ESPY as the best female college athlete.
“When you watch Mel, it’s obvious the talent is there,” Andonovski said. “She has stepped into her role and done what she needed to do. Every game she is getting better and better.
“The goals will come.”