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2023 Player Preview: Justin Haak

The Homegrown earned a promotion to the Senior Team halfway through last season – is this the year he locks down a spot in the Starting XI?

He’s all Homegrown up now.
Photograph by Katie Cahalin, courtesy

Justin Haak

Position: Midfielder
Age: 21
2022 MLS League Games: 17 games, 8 starts, 883 minutes played
Key Stat: 87% Pass Completion per 90 minutes (88th percentile for MLS midfielders)

What went right in 2022:

The number one accomplishment for Justin Haak last season was breaking into New York City FC’s Starting XI and getting some real time on the pitch. After signing as the club’s third-ever Homegrown Player in 2019, Haak had seen very little time with the Senior Team. Instead, he played most of the last three years at the Academy level, then for NYCFC II in MLS NEXT Pro. That changed for Haak in the summer after Ronny Deila departed for Standard Liege. Now with Nick Cushing at the helm, Haak made his way into the Senior Team and became a regular fixture in the starting lineup by the end of the season.

As far as his playing impact, Haak showed glimpses of what he could bring to New York City’s midfield with an impressive 87% Pass Completion, which rated in the 88th percentile in MLS according to FBRef. That level of passing, as well as his talent with the ball at his feet (Haak finished in the 66th percentile in dribbles completed), gives us some things to look forward to if he gets more playing time. Defensively, Haak showed himself very capable in midfield, posting 1.41 Blocks (81st percentile) and 1.77 Clearances (87th percentile) per 90 minutes. This is the sort of play that Cushing looked at when deciding to throw Haak into a defensive back-three in a crucial playoff game. It didn’t work out for Haak and NYCFC in the end, but there is a foundation to work with there.

What to improve:

If Haak is going to establish himself as a regular in the midfield, there are some things he will need to work on. As great as his passing completion was, there was something to be desired when it came to unlocking the opposition’s defense. Haak rated at the very bottom of MLS in Shot-Creating Actions, with only 0.71 per 90, which put him in the first percentile. He also featured close to the bottom when it came to Progressive Passes, completing only 2.36 per 90, which put him in the 13th percentile. Haak will need to evolve into being more than a “safe passer” to solidify himself on the team and elevate his game to the next level.

Additionally, he needs to start to put himself in positions to score. While he might not be a prolific goal scorer, Haak was no stranger to scoring crucial goals for the NYCFC Academy team, and even netted one goal for NYCFC II. He’s shown a knack for putting the ball in the net on corner kicks as well as taking on the opposition with his dribbling prowess to find a goal. Those will be skills NYCFC could surely take advantage of with all of the departures the club has seen this winter.

What to expect in 2023:

If Haak follows the same trajectory as fellow Homegrown Players James Sands and Tayvon Gray, he could very well be on his way to cementing himself as a key player in 2023. Fans have long awaited Haak’s breakout, and we could very well be witnessing the beginning of it.

His three-year-long wait on the sidelines was understandable given the amount of talent NYCFC had in the midfield until this offseason, but with the team in flux and a large number of players making their exit, the opening is there for Haak to become a regular starter. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Haak and Keaton Parks become the new midfield duo that will run the NYCFC midfield for much of this season.

2023 NYCFC Player Previews
• Tony Alfaro
• Luis Barraza
• Maximo Carrizo
• Matt Freese
• Kevin O’Toole
• Samuel “Kwaku” Owusu
• Keaton Parks
• Matías Pellegrini
• Gabriel Pereira
• Talles Magno
• Thiago
• Thiago Martins