New York City FC's Jack Harrison revels in "fantastic" England U-21 call-up

Jack Harrison - New York City FC - Close up

NEW YORK – Bleary-eyed and a little lighter in his wallet, it took longer than Jack Harrison wanted to get from New York City to England for his first call-up to the country’s Under-21 national team.

But the New York City FC winger’s ‘I’ve arrived’ moment happened as soon as he reached his hotel room door. There was his name with the England crest next to it.

“That kind of struck me as the moment where, ‘Wow, I’m actually here,’” Harrison said. “It was more motivation than anything. Once I got there I was really excited to be there and meet all the guys the next morning and start training.”

It was a frantic 48 hours for Harrison, who found out he finally earned his first England call-up just before taking the field to face the Chicago Fire on Sept. 30. The message was supposed to be delivered by NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira after the game. But Vieira bent the rules and rocked Harrison to the core.

“I had to compose myself,” Harrison said. “I tried to call my mom, but she wasn’t answering so that didn’t help either. She finally got to me about 10 minutes before we were going out to warm-ups.”

The message from young Jack was short and sweet.

“Mom, I’ve been selected for the U-21s, but I have to go out and warm up now,” he said.

The next day Harrison flew from Chicago to Westchester with his teammates. From there, he went to his Manhattan apartment to pack and headed to John F. Kennedy Airport. The trip took three hours, resulting in him missing his England FA-booked flight.

Harrison pulled out a credit card and booked the first flight the next morning and a car service to bring him to St. George’s Park. Exhausted from all the traveling, Harrison received a lift from that hotel room door and took that with him to training the next morning.

“Just being on the training pitch was a fantastic experience,” Harrison said. “I was really surprised because a lot of the guys were asking me a lot of questions about America and the MLS. They were much more intrigued than I thought they were going to be. It was nice to get that from the guys. They were very welcoming as well and made me feel comfortable right away.”

New York City FC's Jack Harrison revels in "fantastic" England U-21 call-up -

Harrison said he only knew goalkeeper Angus Gunn, who is at Norwich City on loan from Manchester City, but he certainly knew about the team that captured the U-20 World Cup last year.

“I was expecting to struggle a little bit or behind some of the guys, but I actually surprised myself,” Harrison said. “I wasn’t behind at all. If anything, I was right there with the guys and that was really encouraging for me as a player.”

Harrison said he received some encouraging words from manager Aidy Boothroyd after appearing in both matches – wins over Scotland and Andorra in European U-21 qualifiers.

“Aidy said before I left that you’ve done really well, you proved you belong here as a player and a person as well,” Harrison said. “For me to hear that at the end of camp was really encouraging and I’m really hoping to get called back.”

Vieira was also impressed.

“He just showed that he can compete for a spot on the Under-21, he’s in a really good place in the moment,” Vieira said. “When I looked at the games and players around him, I just said why can’t you go back? Why can’t you play on that level? He showed he has the talent to do it.”

Harrison said the call-up validates the decision he and his mom made to come to America instead of staying in England, where he was in the Manchester United academy before leaving to attend boarding school in Massachusetts at 14.

“The path I’ve taken I just hope inspires others to realize there’s not only one way to make it to your dreams, whether that’s for England or any other European team,” Harrison said. “You can always explore other options. Coming to America has probably been the best thing for me. You can see it’s not hindered any development or anything like that.”

Not surprisingly, Harrison almost immediately became the subject of rumored interest from Manchester United and Manchester City while in England. But the 20-year-old said his focus is squarely on NYCFC and their clash with Columbus on Decision Day presented by AT&T and the upcoming MLS Cup Playoffs. 

“I try not to pay much attention to it,” Harrison said. “I like to keep all my focus here in New York, especially this time of year [when] it’s so important not to get distracted by anything. My main focus is here right now and we’ll have to see what happens in the offseason. I want to win something this year with this club.”