COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — The first time you glance at new Colorado Rapids midfielder Harrison Henao, you might wonder how he will make it in the physically demanding MLS after plying his entire career in Colombia.
But as it turns out, the wiry, 5-foot-9, 155-pound native of Medellín, Colombia, isn’t afraid of challenges, as his preferred position on the pitch might indicate. He’s a natural defensive midfielder who can also play on the wings.
Armed with a wide smile, a bulldog mentality and a willingness to play anywhere needed, Henao is ready to compete for an active role in the heart of manager Oscar Pareja’s midfield. The 25-year-old recently received his ITC and P-1 work visa, allowing him to become eligible for immediate selection following his April signing from Colombian side Once Caldas.
Henao, who traveled with the squad for Wednesday's match at D.C. United (5:30 pm MT, Altitude TV), is now busy working on adjusting to life in MLS, which he said is vastly different from home, but in a good way.
“You run more and it’s more physical," he said. "But the fields are beautiful [in the USA], and you can play better because of that. Colombia has a few nice fields, but here they’re all really nice.”
Literally and figuratively, the greener pastures of the US hope to offer Henao, who started in the defensive midfield role during Once Caldas’ championship run in 2010-11, the opportunity to establish himself as a regular in MLS. The Rapids brought in Henao to shore up their midfield in response to Pablo Mastroeni’s continued indefinite absence with post-concussion symptoms.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” said Henao, who had never been to the United States before signing with the Rapids. “[I’m adjusting to] new customs and a new culture, and I’m ready to learn and help the team.”
The adjustment to life in MLS may not be for Henao what it might have been for fellow Colombian newcomers Jamie Castrillón and Luis Zapata, both fixtures in Pareja’s starting XI. The two arrived from Colombia during the offseason without the presence of fellow Colombian players to show them the ropes.
“They help me,” Henao said. “When I need something it’s helpful to have them here. But it’s all about learning and enjoying my time here.”
The versatile Henao hopes to pick up his first minutes at RFK Stadium on Wednesday, the last match of the Rapids' three-game road stretch.
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.