BALTIMORE – For nearly 45 minutes, Jack Harrison’s status remained up in the air. Selected by the Chicago Fire with the first overall pick, Harrison sat in limbo as pieces started to come together behind the scenes.
As draftees continued to walk past him on their way to take team photos, Harrison waited and waited as his path continued to be decided by coaches and executives stationed on the draft room floor. But, when all was said and done, the Wake Forest product ended up exactly where he wanted to be, and New York City FC added the player they began pursuing long before Thursday’s chaos.
Originally stuck on the outside with the fourth overall pick, NYCFC sent their selection and allocation money to the Fire for what was originally announced as a “player to be named later.” The player turned out to be Harrison, who now joins a club that left no stone unturned in an effort to add him to its ranks.
“I had no idea,” Harrison said with a smile, finally aware of what his future holds. “We were just waiting there, waiting for the news really. It’s exciting, really. It’s a nice feeling to be wanted, and I’m just so grateful for the opportunity, but in the end I was going to be happy either way.
“I mean it’s just a classic whirlwind,” the Manchester United prospect added. “I’m really grateful for this opportunity. It’s nice to be back in New York City, as I played there with my last soccer club. And obviously to be coached by Patrick Vieira is an opportunity that not many people can say they have. So I’m really excited about this new step in my life, and I’m ready to make the most out of it.”
The process of bringing Harrison to New York proved to be a long and complicated one.
Previously a member of Manhattan SC, Harrison’s rights were claimed by NYCFC, who hoped the league would recognize the midfielder as a Homegrown prospect. The process failed, forcing Harrison into a draft process that saw numerous other teams pursue his talents.
As time winded down ahead of Thursday’s event, NYCFC knew that they would have to work quickly to secure Harrison’s services. With just 10 minute remaining before the opening pick, sporting director Claudio Reyna says that he had little confidence in getting a chance at Harrison.
“It was as close as that as far as us knowing we had an opportunity as the other trades played out between Philadelphia and Colorado and conversations I had with Philadelphia and Chicago,” Reyna said, “and it was actually when Don (Garber) started speaking when we were trying to confirm the trade with Chicago. It was pretty crazy for us because we were already thinking about Plan B and what we were trying to get out of the draft with other teams. It basically came full circle from where we started two years ago.”
In the end, NYCFC had to move heaven and earth to get its man, one that the club believes can step in and contribute both immediately and in the future.
Harrison is a player that can certainly play central, but Reyna says that the team believes Harrison can prove to be a dynamic wide option. Harrison may not start from opening day given NYCFC’s talent in midfield, but Reyna says he expects that Harrison’s drive to succeed and talent make him the ideal selection for NYCFC.
“The claim was something we did first,” Reyna said. “We felt we had a fair case and it got denied so we moved on and we came to the draft with the idea of trying to get him still. He was still our top priority and it came up to the very last few minutes before the draft and we felt we had a chance to do it. Things played out with some of the other trades that happened, but it’s been awhile.
“We had other options ready to go and other potential discussions with other teams. We were going after Jack. It was pretty obvious for us internally. It was priority No. 1 coming out of this draft. At the same time, he was wanted by other teams, so we had to make sure we had backup plans, and we did, but we came out with the player that we wanted.”
For Harrison, who also admitted he was offered a deal from the New York Cosmos, the process is still all a bit new. Having spent his formative years in England, the midfielder is still adjusting to the ideas of a draft and a Homegrown player. Yet, the sight of NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira offering congratulations was enough to instantly validate everything Harrison had been through on his road to New York.
Now set to occupy a field alongside Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and fellow Englishman Frank Lampard, Harrison understands he has a lot to learn. Yet, he is more than happy to learn it with a club that already feels like home.
“I don’t feel like there’s too much pressure (after NYCFC traded for me),” Harrison said. “Obviously it’s very humbling for them to go out of their way to try and get me, and I’m just excited to see what it holds.
“It’s been exciting, sometimes overwhelming, but its been a great journey and I’m just so happy everything worked out.”