Sunday was a milestone for NYCFC for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, they defeated a team that MLS is determined to make their rival. On the other, it marked the fourth anniversary of the founding of the club.
But May 21st also marked precisely one year since NYCFC’s 2016 first round draft pick debuted for the side. So how has Jack Harrison’s first year gone?
Same Time, Next Year: Jack Harrison’s First Year for NYCFC
In the Beginning
As I have admitted before, I was not initially impressed when I saw Jack Harrison at the MLS Superdraft in Baltimore. Nice guy, sure. But, let’s face it – small. And young – only 19. And injured. And a midfielder. And after a season in which the midfield was not really the problem, in which NYCFC would have two world class (albeit aging) legends in that part of the formation, and with a draft class fairly bursting with young defensive talent (Josh Yaro, Keegan Rosenberry and Brandon Vincent were picked 2, 3, and 4 after Harrison and have all had strong MLS careers since), it seemed a curious selection at best. And Harrison spending the first two and a half months of the season recovering from surgery didn’t improve my opinion.
Was I wrong to be wary? No. Was I wrong about Harrison? Yes.
As regular readers of this space know, I actually missed Jack Harrison’s debut during last year’s May Massacre. But I knew something was up when everyone I talked to who was at the match said exactly the same thing: “The only bright spot was Harrison. This kid is good.” Now, you know NYCFC fans. When have they agreed on anything? Win, tie, lose, NYCFC fans are consistent in their multiplicity. But not where Jack Harrison was concerned. He won them over almost immediately.
And he kept winning them over. His first goal two weeks later in his first start. Four goals and seven assists over the season. Seventh on the team in shots on goal and eighth in shots. A third place for Rookie of the Year at season’s end and Runner up for Goal of the Year. 17 starts in the remaining 21 games, 21 total appearances and over 1500 minutes on the pitch (for context, that’s almost 300 minutes more than Frank Lampard played last season, and more than double the number Lampard played in his first MLS season).
So was the 2016 season a success? Definitely. Yes, teams got wise to him after those first few matches. Yes, they found they could muscle him off the ball. And yes, the combination of youth and the short seasons he’d played at Berkshire and Wake Forest – and then all that transcontinental MLS travel – combined for a drought at one point that had some wondering if he was a flash in the pan. But he wasn’t. And anyway, there’s more to Jack Harrison’s first year than the 2016 season.
Harrison came into 2017 physically stronger than he was 2016. And with more understanding of the league, his teammates, his team, and his coach. All of it made him a more promising player. And he’s delivered on that promise. Of NYCFC’s 12 games, he’s played in all of them and has started in 11. His pass success percentage is up. He’s sixth on the team in minutes played. Second in goals. Third in assists. And shots. And shots on goal. He’s already got as many goals and shots as he had all of last season, which are good things. He also has essentially as many fouls committed as he had all of last season, which is a very good thing, because it shows confidence and that he’s not afraid to be aggressive. And he’s on pace to far surpass last season’s assists mark.
If you look at Jack Harrison’s first year as if it were one complete 2016 season, he would have eight goals (which would make him tied for 30th in the league in 2016 with Clint Dempsey and Patrick Mullins) and ten assists (which would tie him for 13th with Lloyd Sam) on 28 starts. Eight and ten out of a 20-year-old with his skills and touch on the ball? Who’s demonstrated he can play on the top line with a world class player like David Villa but can also slip into the midfield and distribute the ball? I don’t see many general managers in MLS passing that by.
This is where things get dicey.
By the time Jozy Altidore had played as many minutes as Jack has, he was on a La Liga side. When Michael Bradley had, he spent the next year in the Eredivisie. And when Juan Agudelo had played 3300 across two teams and five seasons (a number Jack should hit by July) he’d signed a deal with Stoke (fun fact: Stoke is Harrison’s birthplace).
Oh, and one more thing.
Cal me paranoid (you won’t be the first), but I think there’s a very real possibility that if Patrick Vieira went back to Europe to lead a team, he’d want to take Jack with him. It’s no secret he likes Jack’s play and that he thinks he’s a good solid kid with tremendous potential. Nor is it a secret that Vieira has experience developing young players – that was, after all, his role in the Manchester City organization.
So does that mean I think Jack Harrison’s first year could be his last? Of course I hope not. I love watching him play and I think he’s exactly the kind of player you could build a team around for the future. He’s only 20, for crying out loud! He can’t even buy a pint here until next year!
But he can in Europe.