Position: Central Midfielder, Central Defender
Key Stat: 88% – the areal duels he won last season, which put him tops for the team
Justin Haak was just the third homegrown signing in NYCFC history, following only James Sands and Joe Scally. After signing with the first team back in 2019, Haak now has five professional seasons under his belt, which feels like a lot for someone who’s still just a 22-year-old.
Justin is clearly a very talented player, sporting an impressive combination of size and technicality, but he hasn’t always had the opportunity to show it in an NYCFC shirt. Outside of some scattered pockets of consistent playing time, Haak has been used mostly as a rotation option so far in his career.
This has lead to some speculation that Haak may be looking for a move out of New York in the coming months in search of more regular minutes. But for now, Justin is on NYCFC’s pre-season roster and gearing up for another year in The Bronx (and Queens, and maybe Harrison, and god knows where else).
What went right – and wrong – in 2023:
One of those big pockets of playing time for Haak came last summer, but came in somewhat unusual circumstances. While traditionally a midfielder, Haak lined up as a center back in a back-three for Nick Cushing for nine consecutive matches between June 3rd and July 8th, going the full 90 minutes in eight of those games.
It was a significant run of matches for Justin, and I thought he showed a lot of versatility in those games, offering some really solid performances while playing in a new position, and often playing off the left side on his weaker left foot.
However, those minutes started to dwindle around the start of Leagues Cup in mid July after Thiago Martins worked his way back from injury, and Cushing switched from the 3-4-3 system back to the 4-2-3-1 system.
This all came right around when Birk Risa was singed and integrated into the squad, and suddenly there were very few starting center-back slots to go around.
Between James Sands, Keaton Parks, and the newly-added Andrés Perea, the competition for starting minutes at holding midfield was equally as fierce. As a result, Haak didn’t start a single game for the first team for the remainder of the season.
What to Expect in 2024:
Haak’s 2024 is a tough one to predict as a few questions still remain unanswered.
The biggest question, of course, is whether or not he’ll still be with NYCFC come opening day. But if that answer is yes, then I start to wonder what position he’ll actually play?
At the core of it all, Haak is a defensive midfielder by trade. But, with the permanent acquisition of Perea now official, it does feel like Justin is far down in the depth chart at holding midfield, making significant game time feel less likely.
But at center-back? We’re still pretty thin. Our two starters seem pretty locked in by way of Thiago Martins and Birk Risa, and the recent acquisition of Strahinja Tanasijević brings an experienced backup to the team. But the MLS season is long and brutal, and my guess is he’ll have opportunities to feature more as a central defender than as a midfielder, just as he did last year.