Last summer, Jack Harrison took the league by storm. New York City FC made waves with a SuperDraft day trade for Harrison after he was selected first overall by the Chicago Fire, and the former Manchester United academy kid rewarded the club’s zealous acquisition with an impressive rookie campaign.
The Englishman recorded 4 goals and 7 assists in 21 games in 2016, earning a second place ranking in MLS 24 under 24 series, falling right behind Orlando City’s Cyle Larin. After an impressive opening salvo, many fans - both of NYCFC and general MLS fans alike - were looking forward to what Harrison would do for an encore this season.
On top of raised expectations for himself, an even bigger microscope would be placed on Harrison, as well as others on the club, as it was unclear how the team would make up for the departure of Frank Lampard - particularly when it came to scoring goals. Jack Harrison has answered that call and more so far this season. After scoring 4 goals in 21 matches last year, the young winger has already matched that total in just 8 games so this season. Not only has his scoring production shot up this year, but take a look at all of his other areas of improvement so far:
As you can see by his shots, dribbles and crosses per game, Harrison has been even more involved in the offense this year. Not only that, he’s really followed Rodney Wallace’s example by providing strong defensive pressure in the attacking third, as his uptick in tackles per game illustrates.
Not included in the chart but also worth noting are his passing numbers. His average passes per game has gone up from 23.8 last season to a healthy 32 passes per game, with an increased passing percentage of 77%, up from 72% last year. He’s moving the ball more and doing so more accurately, both encouraging signs. Also, the fact that he’s crossing the ball more shows growth in his game, as he rarely whipped in crosses last year, preferring to go 1 v 1 on the flanks and cut in more instead. Adding elements like his crossing ability will only up those 1 v 1 opportunities more as there are more things the defender will have to watch for from him - making it harder to anticipate his next move.
Another point that stands out so far, is his confidence inside the 18 yard box. While he may have booted some golden opportunities to start the season, it has to be acknowledged the great positioning he’s been learning to find for himself in front of goal, and without having the ball at his feet. Last year, Jack often relied on his dribbling, pace, and ability to get by defenders to create for himself. This year, he’s learned to play more cerebral so far, instead finding spots for himself where he can be more ruthless and put away chances his teammates provide for him.
This was on full display last weekend against the Columbus Crew SC. Harrison did great work off the ball making himself available to his teammates and adding quality to defeat the keeper and put the ball in the back of the net. Nothing illustrated this point more than his opening goal over the weekend from a beautiful pass from Maxi Moralez:
That chip was picture perfect, cheeky, ruthless...whatever you want to call it. But it showed off all of the things our offensive players not named David Villa need to perfect to take this team to greater heights - great timing on their runs, ability to find space, and quality needed to get the ball pass the keeper. Jack Harrison has displayed that in all of his goals so far this season. Last season, Harrison spent a lot of time with Lampard as the two were recovering from injuries at the same time. Harrison has stated over and over how vital that time was to his development as a player. It’s no doubt thanks to that tutelage that Harrison has blossomed even more as a goal scoring threat this season.
But he hasn’t completely changed his stripes, either. As his passing numbers indicate, he’s looking to connect and make plays for his teammates as well. He only has 1 assist so far this season, according to mlssoccer.com, but I believe more will come as his teammates start to find their finishing touch as well. The sky is still the limit for the young man. I think we’d be kidding ourselves at this point if we ruled anything out.
MLS All-Star? Golden Boot Winner? League MVP? Scoff at these questions at your own peril, my friends. Harrison is the real deal, and at 20 years old, he’s just getting started.