Thursday January 14th, 2016

BALTIMORE — Shortly after thanking the Chicago Fire for “believing in me” and selecting him first in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Jack Harrison no longer played for them. His new team, though, was one that seemed to believe in him well before the draft even started.

New York City FC dealt its No. 4 pick and general allocation money to Chicago for Harrison, who played for Manhattan Soccer Club after moving to the United States to attend Berkshire School, a private prep school in Massachusetts. The former Manchester United youth player from ages 7 to 14 also won Gatorade’s award for the best high school player in the country in 2015.

“They say America is the land of opportunity, and for me, it’s been nothing but that,” Harrison said on stage after his selection.

Then, Harrison disappeared behind the curtain and didn’t emerge for the traditional media gauntlet until much later, wearing an NYCFC scarf. NYCFC had a wishful homegrown player claim rejected earlier this off-season, as MLS didn’t consider his time at Manhattan SC as valid for the claim despite the club’s status as a youth affiliate of NYCFC.

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The franchise knew it wanted Harrison, who scored eight goals and added 11 assists in his stellar single college season with Wake Forest before signing a Generation Adidas contract. After a series of Freshman of the Year accolades and an All-American award, Harrison was a highly touted prospect in the draft.

So NYCFC did what it had to do to make sure it landed him.

“It was just a massive whirlwind, really. I was a little confused at times, but I’m excited about this new opportunity and whatever it beholds,” Harrison told after his future was finally decided. “A lot of my friends back home are really confused about how the draft works and stuff, so I had to do my best to try and explain to them what it was.”

Had he stayed in England, the Bolton native could have continued his path in Manchester United’s youth system. In the end, though, the allure of continuing education won out—at least for his mother, Deborah.

“My mom was kind of worried about my education, so she wanted a place where I could balance the soccer side as well as the education, too,” he said. “So we looked to America, and Berkshire School was one of the schools that popped up. I visited and just fell in love right away when I was on campus; it was probably one of the best experiences of my life so far.”

The next step for Harrison will be breaking into a crowded midfield that includes Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, Mix Diskerud and another talented younger player in Kwadwo Poku. Returning to his adopted home in New York at least means he will at least be in a comfortable environment as he waits for his chance.

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“I love the city. It’s a great place to be,” he said. “I would’ve been happy going anywhere, really, but obviously with my social network being in New York, it’s nice to have that. … I’m an attacking player, so hopefully I can bring that to the team [with] a lot of the other great players. I like to combine, and I like to assist as much as score goals. That gives me just as much satisfaction.”

At the same time, he’ll be playing for Patrick Vieira, who began his legendary nine-year stint at Arsenal three months before Harrison was born.

As NYCFC’s only selection in the first two rounds of the draft (the club sent its second-round pick to the Montreal Impact in exchange for defender Jeb Brovsky in June 2014), Harrison also adds to the franchise’s Euro-centric feel.

The rookie knows he’s far from the finished product, but he doesn’t shy away from the fact that his soccer education is just beginning.

“I’m just looking to listen to what they say, take whatever it is they have to say on board and work hard to fulfill their wants and needs,” Harrison said. “I’m just looking forward to hopefully serving the club well.”

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