DC United's Ian Harkes hopes to forge own image at his father's former club

WASHINGTON—Ian Harkes admits it’s “a little weird” to begin his pro career at a club where his father, John Harkes, is among the club’s most iconic players.

But D.C. United’s newest Homegrown Player signing insists his dad only wanted his son to go down the right road for him.

“He was happy that I just even got a chance to play at the next level,” Ian Harkes said. “He was saying that I have to go with my heart and just be obviously happy about where I want to play and everything like that.”

Born in England, Harkes considered other options that included a potential move abroad. Ultimately, he returned to Washington, D.C., where he’d featured for United’s Under-16 and U-18 clubs before a college career at Wake Forest that included a trip to this year’s national championship game.

Those academy ties allowed the 2016 winner of the MAC Hermann Trophy, given to the nation’s top collegiate player, to return to D.C. without entering the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. That was an increasingly appealing notion after United’s strong second half last season.

“D.C. was kind of the right decision all along,” Harkes said. “I like how they’re just an exciting, attacking team. They like to press pretty high and get after the ball right away, so that was something that I learned to do a lot at school. Hopefully I can make an impact and just learn and try and challenge other teammates.”

And so an almost cosmic-seeming circle is completed, something not lost on D.C. coach Ben Olsen, who was a rookie in 1998 during John Harkes’ third and final season with United.

“It’s really a fun thing to see him as a kid, having played with his father, and now to see him with the club,” Olsen said. “I’m a romantic, as you know, with this club, and I love the story behind it.”

Olsen quickly added that the rookie Harkes, now 21 after playing through his senior year, has a chance to make his own name at the club; he notably scored four game-winning goals in his senior season at Wake.

“I can’t say he’s going to be a starter for this team,” Olsen said. “But I’ve seen enough of him that I know he’s going to push guys, and he’s competitive enough to want to be on the field on the weekend … With his skillset, it’s certainly possible.”

Olsen views Harkes as a holding or box-to-box central midfielder. Longtime United supporters might see more echoes of his father’s later years with D.C., rather than his earlier pro years on the wings in English football.

“I think he was maybe a little bit more attacking-minded than me, just with 1-on-1 situations,” Ian Harkes said. “He’d like to cut people up on the wing and things like that. Obviously, when he moved to the midfield, there’s a lot more similarities.”

Harkes is eager to join Steve Birnbaum, Patrick Mullins and Taylor Kemp among college players to develop into legitimate MLS talents under Olsen’s watch, albeit while striking the right balance.

“I’d like to obviously push for a starting spot,” Harkes said. “But I’m just going to enjoy the process.”