Jack Harrison: A different perspective on the American Dream and his soccer journey
America is known as the land of opportunity, but those opportunities don’t typically include professional soccer.
Jack Harrison always dreamed of playing pro soccer but he wasn’t totally convinced he’d be able to achieve that goal, even though he played for the historic academy team at Manchester United.
“Of the roughly 12,500 kids in academies throughout England, it’s estimated that less than 1 percent of them will play soccer professionally,” ESPNFC reports. Roughly 12 percent of English Premier League players are graduates of their club’s academy according to ESPN. Nearly 60 percent of English Premier League players are foreign, meaning that the window of opportunity for homegrown English players like Harrison at huge clubs like Manchester United is shrinking.
When his mother presented the opportunity to move to the U.S. and receive a quality education and potential college degree while still playing high level soccer, Harrison couldn’t say no. After talking to schools all across the country in the U.S. she finally found a private boarding school in Massachusetts that agreed to take him, despite never seeing him play. At the age of 14, Harrison boarded a plane by himself and headed to the U.S., leaving behind Manchester United’s glorious academy, well-known for grooming some of the best players in the sport like David Beckham, Paul Pogba, Ryan Giggs and many more.
An hour and a half train ride separated Harrison’s boarding school in Sheffield, Massachusetts from his weekly after-school practices in Manhattan. Brought to Manhattan Soccer Club by one of his classmates, Harrison ended up being part of one of EDP’s most successful teams. One of the Elite Development Program’s founding members and biggest clubs, Manhattan Soccer Club helped Jack Harrison take his game to the next level.
Throughout his high school club career, Harrison played with kids 2-3 years older than him and even spent time practicing with the U20 and U23 teams at the club. As one of the top teams in the nation, with Harrison leading the team from midfield, Manhattan Soccer first dominated the EDP league and then won the USYA U17 Championships. Harrison was awarded the Golden Ball of the Tournament that year as the competition’s best player. He finished his high school career as the Gatorade National Soccer Player of the Year.
Manhattan Soccer Club Director of Coaching Ray Selvadurai speaks very highly of Harrison and just how evident his potential was.
“In addition to being a great athlete, he could perform everything accurately and at top speed,” Coach Selvadurai says.
“We knew that Jack had the talent and the drive to reach the highest levels of world football even in his younger years. He represented our club well and led our team to national prominence. His path as a high school and club player, to NCAA All-American at Wake Forest, to top MLS Draft Pick with NYCFC and now back to his home country is an amazing journey. In my opinion, Jack is just scratching the surface of his professional career.”
It didn’t take long for Harrison to commit to Wake Forest. He soon fell in love with the team’s exciting attacking style and campus life. His college career only lasted a year but he broke many records along the way. He started all 22 games his freshman year. He tied the team-high in goals and led the team in assists. He later became the only player in ACC history to win Rookie Year and Offensive Player of the year, and finished the season as a semi-finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy of the year, given to the best player in college soccer.
Breaking Down the Move to Manchester City
It’s easy to see why New York City Football Club (NYCFC) was so eager to try and claim Harrison as homegrown, due to him playing with youth club affiliate Manhattan Soccer Club all throughout high school. However, this claim was rejected by the MLS and he entered the draft as the youngest available player. Selected first overall in the draft by Chicago Fire, NYCFC eventually got their man after trading for him shortly after he was selected.
NYCFC is under the same ownership group as Manchester City, and it didn’t take long for the higher-ups to notice the talented young player they had on the books.
The move for Harrison is more like a transfer of paperwork in which City Football Group is paying itself for a player it already owns. Although technically on the roster for Manchester City, Harrison’s immediate 6-month loan to Championship Division 2 club Middlesborough is to help acclimate him back into the European game.
The real test for Harrison’s career begins now. He’s back home on the books for a team arguably better than its cross-town rival and Harrison’s former club, Manchester United. Depending on how he plays in the second division, Manchester City will decide if he’s someone to hold on to or sell for a profit.
Harrison’s path to the Premier League may be an unlikely one, but more and more young foreign soccer players are choosing the U.S. as a pathway to the professional game with the security of a high-level education in their back pocket. Those outside looking in are seeing the growing seriousness of soccer in the U.S. More foreign young soccer players, even those like Harrison who played at one of the most prestigious academies in the world, are seeing America as a realistic path to the professional game. Not many are as brave as Harrison though, to leave Manchester United behind and move to the U.S. by himself at such a young age.
How many so far?
Harrison is only one of four internationals to have won the High School Gatorade Soccer Player of the Year, and all four have come since 2012.
Land of opportunity indeed.
EDP and Manhattan Soccer Club celebrates and welcomes players as brave and hard-working as Jack. We wish him the best of luck back home.
Wake Forest Men's Soccer, 2018 http://www.wakeforestsports.com/sports/m-soccer/mtt/jack_harrison_949251.html