English players and America’s Major League Soccer don’t exactly go hand in hand. Two of the most recent, high profile English transplants were David Beckham and Jermain Defoe. The former had to leave LA Galaxy twice on loan to maintain his international career and the latter was ignored completely when it came to selecting the squad for the 2014 World Cup. Still, that hasn’t stopped the young Jack Harrison from developing his game at New York City FC. Harrison, who used to be on Manchester United’s books and was an academy peer of Marcus Rashford, swapped Carrington for Massachusetts in pursuit of his own American Dream, a tale that has warmed the hearts of American football (soccer) fans.
But this isn’t the first time that Harrison has made headline news in the MLS. In 2016, Harrison was chosen as the no.1 draft pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft by Chicago Fire before New York City intervened to sign him, sacrificing their no.4 pick plus money to secure him. Harrison continued to impress in his maiden season, coming second to Jordan Morris in the MLS Rookie of the Year Award and gaining a nomination for MLS Goal of the Year. And with Harrison finally gaining recognition from his homeland in the form of a call-up to the U21 squad, it seems that the FA have now woken up to the promise of MLS’ best imported starlet.
“Despite spells in the Liverpool and Manchester United academies, Harrison’s prowess as a player is mainly down to his tutelage in the states.”
It was probably a surprise for Harrison too; he revealed to The Guardian last year that he wouldn’t rule out playing for the USA national team – especially if England didn’t come calling. Stories of Beckham and Defoe’s struggles post-MLS would’ve definitely put doubts in Harrison’s mind over the potential of a call-up in the future. Furthermore, the tired but valid argument that the MLS, a league still in its infancy, is supremely inferior to the Premier League and Europe would also play on the mind of the FA. Would Jack Harrison be able to replicate his dazzling form in the Premier League or European equivalents? Would he be able to even replicate his form in the MLS if he didn’t have teammates like Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and David Villa to support him as well as a nurturing coach in Patrick Vieira? They are all valid suggestions that would slip into an argument against Harrison’s inclusion in the U21 squad.
However, the praise that he has received in wake of the call-up from his decorated colleagues will no doubt put Harrison in good stead with English fans ignorant of his incredible rise through the American ranks. “Top man, you deserve it and more,” wrote Frank Lampard on Instagram. “Congrats golden boy,” crowed David Villa on Twitter, further buoyed by his recent recall to the Spanish national setup. Perhaps Villa’s resurgence via the MLS is an encouraging note to conclude on in the fascinating case of Jack Harrison. The MLS is obviously becoming a valid proving ground for young and old talent rather than just a retirement village for greats of the game who have lost the pace to compete in Europe. Additionally, Harrison has been a part of the US football development programme since the age of 13. Despite spells in the Liverpool and Manchester United academies, Harrison’s prowess as a player is mainly down to his tutelage in the states. If they can produce a player good enough to break into the English national team, surely US football is heading in the right direction?