BALTIMORE – For more than half an hour, Jack Harrison and his mother, Deborah, found themselves in a state of limbo.
The Chicago Fire had taken the Wake Forest freshman and Bolton, England, native with the first overall pick of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, but there were doubts that the Windy City would be the Generation adidas signee’s final destination.
Out of sight behind a massive black curtain, temporarily sequestered from the waiting press corps, the Harrisons waited to see where Jack would land. Would he be headed to Chicago or would another team swoop in and trade for his rights?
“Me and my mom were just standing there like, ‘What’s going on?’” Harrison said later.
Plenty, as it turned out.
Behind the scenes, New York City FC, whose Homegrown claim on the 19-year-old was denied by MLS two weeks ago, were in negotiations with the Fire for the rights to the attacking player who’d emerged as the SuperDraft’s most sought-after prospect in the days leading up to Thursday’s first two rounds in Baltimore.
The Fire shopped the pick during the Combine, and with New York City’s intentions clear, negotiations began to come together, NYCFC director of soccer operations Claudio Reyna said, in the final minutes before the SuperDraft began.
“We were going after Jack. It was pretty obvious to us internally who was our priority No. 1,” Reyna said. “At the same time, he was wanted by other teams.”
In the end, a package including the fourth-overall pick -- which turned out to be current US national team call-up Brandon Vincent -- and general allocation money was enough for the Fire to send Harrison to the team he wanted to end up with all along.
“It’s just a massive whirlwind. I’m really grateful for this opportunity,” said Harrison, who is expected to start on the wing. “It’s nice to be back in New York City, as I played there with Manhattan Soccer Club. Obviously, being coached by Patrick Vieira is an opportunity not many people can say they have. I’m really excited about this new step in my life, and I am looking forward to making the most out of it.”
Harrison excelled in his lone season at Wake Forest, where he led the Demon Deacons in assists (11), tied for the team lead in goals (8) and collected just about every award – ACC Offensive Player of the Year, ACC Freshman of the Year, NSCAA All-American First Team, MAC Hermann Trophy Semifinalist – available.
That came after a banner career at the Berkshire School, a boarding and college prep institution in Sheffield, Massachusetts that Harrison attended after leaving the Manchester United academy. During high school, he also played for Manhattan Soccer Club – now an NYCFC affiliate, giving them a basis for their Homegrown claim – falling in love with the city he’ll now call home.
“We think it’s the perfect environment for him,” Reyna said. “He spent time the last few years in New York City, so it’s become home to him. He’s settled there. He knows the area. He wanted to come to us, so we’re excited. He wants to pay us back, he said, for what we we’ve done to get him.”
His family certainly appreciates NYCFC’s dogged efforts as well. While Harrison navigated the American educational system, his mother stayed back in England, watching as a network of soccer and school families and friends “fostered” her son during the school year, holidays and summer.
Now, he’s just a flight from England, as well as Spain, where his mother’s parents reside.
“It’s been hard with her not being here. She’s been so supportive,” Harrison said. "I’m so proud of her for doing the best she can from across the world. She’s a single mother, raised me by herself and I’m her only child as well. It was hard for her, but I’m glad we made it through together. This is the dream. This is what I’ve always dreamed of, and we’re both just really happy.”
Flanked by his mother, Harrison said he’s ready to take the next step in his career at a club where midfield opportunities could be hard to come by. He sat out the MLS Player Combine last week due to a groin injury, but said that decision was precautionary and that he should be ready when training camp opens next week.
And will Deborah be there to live the dream with her only child?
“Distinct possibility, if we can make it work,” she told MLSsoccer.com. “To be reunited with him, to be able to look after him and do his washing and cook his meals.”
And while his mother looks after him off the field, Harrison will have the likes of Vieira, David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo bringing him along in the pro ranks – a once-in-a-lifetime soccer apprenticeship for any 19 year old.
“It doesn’t sound normal, does it?” Deborah said, laughing at the thought. “My dad is salivating. I just feel like my feet are not touching the ground. Wow. What do you say? You’re just in awe of it. To be under the wing of New York City FC is just amazing.”