Chris Hegardt: “Sometimes, we take for granted things we love to do”


How the Charlotte FC midfielder and Georgetown alum beat cancer on the path to pro soccer

CHARLOTTE—An elite athlete must show strength, tenacity, and determination to reach their goals. Few, however, have conquered the kind of adversity that midfielder Chris Hegardt faced in childhood.

Growing up in Southern California in a soccer-obsessed family—two of his three siblings would later join him in playing at the D1 college level—Hegardt first showed his incredible precocious talent by dominating pee wee games.

At the age of seven, a talent scout pronounced him to be the best player of his age in the United States.

“I wasn’t really aware of that billing,” says Hegardt during a break in training at Charlotte FC’s inaugural training camp in Bradenton, FL. “I was more focused on playing soccer and having fun. At that age, I had so many good players on my team, and that made me better as well.”

In 2009, during a tournament with his local team, the Fallbrook Fury, seven-year-old Hegardt was injured when a ball struck him in the stomach. The pain failed to subside and a subsequent trip to the hospital revealed a malignant cancerous tumor that was covering a third of his liver. The outlook was bleak.

This rare case of pediatric liver cancer was inadvertently discovered on the soccer field—and it was a return to the beautiful game that dominated his thoughts as he battled through six rounds of chemotherapy, a liver transplant and months of nauseating anti-rejection medications.

“I think that experience shaped who I am today, and ultimately made me a stronger and a better person,” says Hegardt. “Ultimately, it made me grateful to be back on the soccer field every day. 

“Sometimes, we take for granted things we love to do. Every day, I feel blessed to still be able to play, and now I’m doing it for a job, which feels surreal!”


With the help of his family, friends and teammates, Hegardt’s pre-teen road to recovery saw him reestablish his reputation in Californian youth soccer—and he even trained with a certain Argentine who is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time.

“I did a Make A Wish Foundation thing with Lionel Messi when I was nine,” chuckles Hegardt. “He was a super nice guy, who spent the whole day with us. This was when he was in his absolute prime, so it was very exciting.”

In the years following remission—and his workout with a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner—Hegardt played youth soccer with teams including the San Diego Surf and LA Galaxy, before leaving his home state to join the vaunted Seattle Sounders Academy (a program whose coaching staff included Charlotte FC Academy Manager Dan Lock). 

In 2019, Hegardt was a member of the Sounders U17 team that made history by becoming the first MLS team to win the prestigious Generation adidas Cup, beating Spanish side Valencia in the final.

“That GA Cup was filled with so many baller players, who now play in MLS,” says Hegardt. “We beat so many great teams, which was super good for US soccer as it showed we could compete with some of the best players in the world.”


Later in 2019, Hegardt made his professional debut with the Sounders’ USL affiliate, Tacoma Defiance, before joining the ranks at Georgetown University.

After 31 games over two seasons in college, the sophomore received a life-changing call from Charlotte FC coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez.

“We had just been eliminated from the Final Four of the ​​2021 NCAA Tournament and I went on a ski trip with my family,” says Hegardt. “I had just finished skiing that day and Miguel called to say the club was very interested in me. 

“He called me back later and said he wanted to offer me a contract. It was crazy! So I stopped skiing and started resting up for preseason!”

In January, Charlotte FC secured Hegardt’s Homegrown Priority from Seattle Sounders and confirmed his contract through 2023, with option years in 2024 and 2025. 

“I’ve only been in the city for three weeks but I really love Charlotte and everything about the club,” says Hegardt. “The staff, the facilities, the fans: everything about this experience has amazed me so far.

“My decision to come here ultimately came down to Miguel, and trusting his plan. If you look at his resume and history with developing young players, you see the opportunities that he has given, and you don’t see that at every club.”


“Before I came to Charlotte, Miguel sat down with me and showed me the game model. and I think I fit his system really well.

“I don’t think a lot of people have thought about soccer in this way, and I’m excited for you guys to see it out on the field.”

The box-to-box midfielder describes himself as a technical player, who “lives in the spaces” and strives to find the final pass.

When asked about the professional players he most admires, the first name that comes to mind is Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos. Although his highlight reel is filled with stunning long-range goals, the German playmaker is renowned for his vision and role as an architect in attacking movements. He creates success for others, a trait that Hegardt also shares.

“I love to score, but creating goals for teammates brings me a lot of happiness,” says Hegardt. “I like to be the creative player that can set up the goal. As long as I can help the team, that’s all I can ask for.” 

The 20-year-old is thriving in pre-season training camp, noting that new teammates McKinze Gaines and Jaylin Lindsey have been particularly helpful in helping him to assimilate to his new professional climate. 

“I’m grateful to the boys who have helped me so far, and the chemistry in the group has been really great, even if we all don’t speak the same language,” says Hagardt. 

“The bonding process comes down to Miguel and the great job he is doing with team activities, so we learn more about each other. It’s almost like we’re building a brotherhood here, and I think that makes it really special.”


On the pathway to Major League Soccer, Hegardt has overcome more adversity than most of us will ever face—and his determination to succeed is clear.

“There’s so many good players here that you have to give 100% every single day to fight for your spot,” says Hegardt. “If I can train hard every day and show that I belong here, I’ll definitely get the opportunities from the coaching staff.

“I’m so grateful to be in a professional environment and I’ll give everything for the badge, the city and the fans.

“And on a personal level, I want to make my family and friends proud of me, as they’ve given so much for me to get here.

“I want to make them happy, but most importantly, I want to help this team win.”

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