Some impressive performances of late have well and truly let the Jack Harrison secret out bag and the winger could now be facing a dilemma over his international future.
The Panenka looks at the NYCFC stars journey from Lancashire, England to Yankees Stadium, New York.
Born in Stoke-on-Trent but raised in Bolton, the 19-year-old is making waves in the MLS for New York City FC raising questions from both sides of the Atlantic over his eligibility for international football.
The former-Manchester United youth player has never represented England at any level, leading to a possible scramble by the FA for his allegiance and a high degree of interest from the USMNT.
Harrison’s rise to prominence in the US soccer scene is all the more remarkable considering he made the ballsy decision aged 14 to leave both the United academy and single-mother Deborah to attend the prestigious Berkshire School in Massachusetts.
Harrison’s mother has revealed in interviews that the reason a school in on the other side of the Atlantic was so appealing was because her talented son would receive an education to fall back on if things didn’t go to plan. However, her boy excelled at Berkshire, leading to starring roles for Manhattan Soccer Club and Wake Forest Demon Deacons at college level that put him in NYCFC’s sights.
Chosen as the number drat pick in January 2016 by Chicago Fire in the high-profile event, Harrison was later traded to NYCFC for the fourth pick and general allocation money. Since then, he has barely looked back.
“I don’t think people in England get what being first pick in the draft means. It’s unreal, it’s unbelievable,” Harrison said.
The forward has barely made 10 starts for the US club but had already netted three times and played a hand in several assists. In his last match, a 3-1 win against Montreal Impact, Harrison made a slaloming run from the right before cutting inside to give his team a two-goal cushion.
The performance drew compliments from a former-England international Frank Lampard who labeled the teen sensation a “revelation” since making a breakthrough into the side.
“As a winger, you won’t always have the best game,” Lampard said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t get to you enough or you can’t get involved as much as you want, but when it does come you need to be a bit special and he’s been a revelation for us in turning the corner and winning these last five out of six games because he’s given us a real outlet of speed and ability on the ball.”
When asked where his international future lay, Harrison has a clear choice. “I’d love to represent my country,” Harrison told The Telegraph, “and if the interest is not there for England, it would be nice to explore [the option of playing for the United States].”
USMNT supporters can take some encouragement in the fact that Harrison has never represented England. This means that if the 19-year-old doesn’t make any type of Three Lions appearance before gaining citizenship the USA, he could potentially play for the Stars and Stripes.
However, Harrison would need to live continuously in the USA for five years in order to apply for a US passport. In his current form, not being called up by England is as unlikely as him being overlooked as a potential signing by the cash rich clubs in the Premier league.
The rookie made his debut in the demoralizing 7-0 home defeat to city rivals New York Red Bulls where the Lancashire born player made a completely unnoticed debut.
His second appearance versus Red Bulls was far more memorable. Harrison scored the opening goal just eight minutes in and set up David Villa in the second half to help NYCFC earn its first win against their rivals in red, claiming top spot in the Eastern Conference in the process.
David Villa, former World Cup Winner speaks highly of his young teammate. “I’ve spent a lot of years in this game, and he has something important that only a few players have,” Villa told reporters.
“When he has the ball at his feet, you get the sensation something is going to happen. Few players give you that feeling and he has it. He has it at 19 years old, with not much time as a professional. And he has it, which is the most important thing, along with being a great kid who knows where he has to take his career, and day after day he wants to learn and grow.”
It’s a rare player that walks away from Manchester United, but Harrison did just that. He joined the club’s academy as a six-year-old, and ended up staying for seven years before moving to the states.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “That was where I developed my technical ability and all that stuff. From such a young age, I just worked on my skills, and every now and then we’d see the professionals.”
The number one Draft pick missed the first half of the season with a pelvic injury but the Englishman is now playing week-in week-out with some very well established players. In addition to Frank Lampard and David Villa, Andrea Pirlo is also among the NYCFC ranks.
“It took me a while to get used to it, I’m still getting used to it,” Harrison told ESPNFC about playing with such famous teammates. “Definitely star-struck, seeing these guys walking around. I’m just grateful to see them every day.”
Adding; “All my friends are so jealous. They tell me to get pictures of them. My friends, we grew up playing them on FIFA. It’s a crazy concept to try and get your head around.”
Harrison clearly has a bright future ahead of him and it is quite clear that should a Premier League team come knocking then it would be difficult for him to turn them down. As Patrick Vieira, his coach at New York City, had said, “the best is still to come.”