For weeks now it's been no secret that NYCFC were very high on college prospect Jack Harrison. Several weeks ago, the team reached out to the league in an attempt to place a Homegrown Player claim on the young midfielder. The league, however, denied this claim. Fast forward to this week, and there was much talk around the league regarding NYCFC potentially trading up to the number 1 pick, the assumption being so they could grab Jack Harrison, concerned he would not drop to them at 4th. And so it was, on the day of the SuperDraft, the Chicago Fire took Jack Harrison first overall, which was somewhat surprising given that most pundits viewed Joshua Yaro as the consensus number 1 pick. And so it seemed that NYCFC's dalliance with Jack Harrison had come to an end. Or so we thought.
A few picks later we arrive at NYCFC's turn on the clock. Twellman, Doyle, and the other talking heads at the draft day booth were mentioning rumblings of NYCFC potentially trading their 4th pick. Garber took surprisingly longer than usual to make his way up to the podium and when he did it was to announce that NYCFC had agreed to a trade involving the 4th overall pick and allocation money going to the Chicago Fire for a player to be named later. Around twenty minutes or so later, we were made aware of who that player was: Jack Harrison, the top pick in the 2016 SuperDraft. So there it was, NYCFC and Claudio Reyna got their guy. But what type of player did they get, and how does he fit into the NYCFC landscape?
Jack Harrison in the past few weeks has been described several different ways. He's been called an attacking midfielder, a box-to-box midfielder, and a winger. There's still some differences of opinion about where he will play. One thing everyone agrees on, though, is that he's an excellent attacking player for his age. His one and only season at Wake Forest University saw him notch 8 goals and 11 assists in the midfield and earned him the honor of ACC Player of the Year. He was also the only freshman the make all three All-American teams this year. And at 19, was the youngest player in the SuperDraft and signed to a Generation Adidas contract. So it's no surprise why NYCFC felt comfortable making a move all the way up to the first overall pick in order to make sure they secured Harrison's services.
Here's what Andrew Wilson, Assistant Director of Athletic Communications at Wake Forest University Athletics, had to say about Jack Harrison and his time at Wake Forest:
"From the moment Jack stepped on campus at Wake Forest I think we all knew he was going to be something special and someone that could help the team accomplish special things. His work ethic is second-to-none. I remember plenty of practices this past fall when the coaching staff would have to tell him to stop practicing something after practice because he was going to wear himself out doing the same thing over and over until he perfected it. He came in and dominated what many believe to be the best college soccer conference in the nation with a quick first step and the ability to get around just about anyone to get himself into a dangerous position. We're sad to see him leave but we know he's going to be an excellent representative of Wake Forest University for years and years to come. He's a great kid and we're excited to watch him continue his career at the next level with NYCFC."
At the combine, here's what coaches and general managers were divulging to mlssoocer.com :
Jack Harrison, MF (Wake Forest – Generation adidas)"He’s really been impressive. He shows enough to convince you that he’s got enough to develop over time … Can be crafty in the attack, can score goals, set up plays. I think he has a savviness to him. He’s smart, clever, sharp around the goal, sets plays up well … Not playing at the Combine, I think he’s hurt or out, which tells me he’s going to get picked in the top five … Good, good player. The fact that he’s GA always winds up being a valuable asset. I see him going for sure early, probably in the top five.
Before college, Harrison played High School Soccer for Berkshire in Massachusetts, helping them become the NEPSAC Class A champions for three straight seasons. Individually, he won the 2015 Gatorade National Boys' Soccer Player of the Year as well as the USYSA Golden Ball in 2014. In total, he tallied 24 goals and 33 assists in his High School career. And to top it all off, before playing High School soccer in America, Harrison once upon a time used to be a part of the Manchester United youth system. In a short time, the young man from Bolton, England has made quite a name for himself and you can see why Reyna and the club were very high on him.
Here are some highlights of Harrison during his time in HS and College:
How does Jack Harrison fit with NYCFC?
One of the main talking points we will probably here for at least the immediate future is whether or not NYCFC should've put so much effort into getting Harrison, especially when there was defensive help available in the way of Brandon Vincent with the number 4 pick. Vincent, a defensively sound left back, would seemingly fit more of a need for the team as oppose to Harrison, who now enters a pretty crowded midfield. And in a vacuum that is a very legitimate point. The team could've also made this same trade and have the Fire draft Yaro for them as well, who would've also filled a need whether he ends up playing right back or center back. And again these are all valid points. But I think what we learned from this exercise is that NYCFC were committed to taking who they believed to be the best talent available regardless of position. And while this doesn't address immediate needs, it does potentially show us the type of team NYCFC is trying to build.
In the short term, I believe Harrison will be used as wide midfield player. Whether that's as a starter or a bench player still remains to be seen. Last season the team finished the season playing a 4-5-1, but in the Puerto Rico match, the team deployed a 4-3-3 formation. Harrison could work in either situation, either as a pushed up winger or as a wide midfielder. The problem for Harrison, though, is the team is not short on wide attacking options. The team is already using the wings to find minutes for players like McNamara, Mix, and even Khiry Shelton. The team could also use this year as a way to get him professional reps down in the USL, with their affiliate in Wilmington. Although, they didn't do that with Shelton and I find it hard to believe they would do it with Harrison, especially with how much he was coveted. I think they bring him along to start the season as a super sub/ spot starter for weeks where there are two matches. Then as summer approaches and guys like Lampard and Pirlo will need more rest, I expect to see Harrison become more of a fixture in the starting XI, most likely as a wide midfielder but with his skill set I could see them using him as a no. 10 or attacking midfielder as well.
Long term, getting Harrison is a major boon for the club's future. While guys like Vincent and Yaro may have fit more immediate needs, there are very few people who would say they were more talented than Jack Harrison. And when you look past 2016, that gives the club a midfield core of McNamara, Poku, Mix, and Harrison to build on. Add that to the attacking talent of Mullins and Shelton and NYCFC is building a young attacking core that could play together for several years. This is the type of foundation fans are looking for, and the type of team building that people are looking to see from Reyna. Let's see if he can find those defensive solutions in other ways during this winter transfer window.
For now, let's wait and see what's in store for NYCFC's newest member.