Jack Harrison is name few football people would have heard of during his time as an academy footballer in the UK. Just like England legend and inaugural winner of the Ballon d’Or Stanley Matthews, Harrison was born in Stoke-on-Trent, but rather than join local club Stoke City, he spent seven years at Manchester United. Harrison then quit the English academy system, headed to the USA and at the tender age of 14 joined the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts.
Taking his sporting talent to the US enabled Harrison to gain an elite education at a school with excellent academic and athletic resources. He thrived in the American school system and became the only freshman to have made any of the three All-American teams, being a National Soccer Coaches Association of America First Team All-American.
In 2016 Harrison was drafted number one overall pick by the Chicago Fire and then traded to New York City FC were he currently wears the number 11 jersey. His prospects are good for this season, as at the time of writing New York City FC are 9/1 to win the league with Bet365 MLS betting and they sit second in the table so he could become a champion in his rookie season. Playing under manager Patrick Vieira, Jack has recently returned to the starting lineup on the right of NYCFC’s three-man front line, where he put in a good performance recently to beat Steven Gerrard’s LA Galaxy 1-0. He’s not just playing against great names of the game, he now finds himself sharing the pitch and training field with Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa. After overcoming an injury that delayed his start to the season, Harrison now has two goals and two assists in six starts and is starting to attract interest from his native country.
The American Way
Harrison’s is an unusual route to making it as a professional football player, but it’s likely to become a path many others will consider taking. For those young people from English speaking countries, the allure of upping sticks and moving to the US is obvious. Moving into the American college system will give most students an incredible once in a lifetime experience without having to learn a new language or adapt to a totally unfamiliar culture. It’s a fantastic opportunity to study in America, train, compete and develop soccer skills and generally experience a whole new culture and meet new people.
The scholarship system does mean taking on the responsibilities of being a student-athlete, which means the coach/college are paying for the sponsored person to represent them and perform. The sponsored student-athlete will be expected to act in a professional way that portrays the college well to others and this should be good preparation for being in the pro leagues. They would also be expected to study hard and keep good grades in order to remain eligible to compete each semester. All soccer scholarships are reviewed annually by the coaches and any perceived lack of performance on the part of the player will result in the scholarship being either reduced or taken away completely.
For those prepared to put the work in, the US college soccer system offers a balance of elite education and football prospects that won’t leave those who don’t quite make the grade with no academic qualifications to fall back on. It’s becoming an increasing attractive option for those that have the necessary talent and don’t be surprised if more stars emerge like Jack Harrison.