Ian Harkes - Dribbling - D.C. United vs. New England Revolution - April 22, 2017
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Rookie Ian Harkes taking big step forward as a starter for DC United

WASHINGTON – Rookie midfielder Ian Harkes is doing his best to absorb all the advice he’s getting from head coach Ben Olsen and his veteran D.C. United teammates, but not all of it is hitting home just yet.

Particularly the bit about the inevitable highs and lows of pro soccer.

“I’m not sure where I am right now, if this is an up or a down,” Harkes told MLSsoccer.com. “But [they say] just to be ready for that, and just be ready for the long haul.”

That’s understandable from the 2016 MAC Hermann Trophy winner, who has continuously improved in his first six pro starts, with a seventh likely to come on Sunday at Atlanta United (3 pm ET; FS1 in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada).

Against New York City FC on April 8, Harkes helped D.C. contain David Villa, Maxi Moralez and Andrea Pirlo in a 2-1 victory. The following week, he was a relative bright spot in an otherwise dismal 2-0 loss at the New York Red Bulls.

And with Luciano Acosta’s ankle injury forcing Harkes higher up the field last Saturday, only the woodwork twice denied him a first professional goal in a 2-2 draw at New England.

“I think you’ve seen him take a step forward,” Olsen said of Harkes, whom D.C. signed as a Homegrown Player in January after he completed a standout career at Wake Forest. “We watched a lot of Ian in college. This isn’t a surprise to us. We wouldn’t have jumped through the hoops to really sell the opportunity to come to D.C. if we didn’t think he could handle it.”

Said Harkes: “I don’t think there’s been like a lightbulb moment. … It’s obviously a learning curve. And you step up and grow with each experience.”

Olsen admits that United will eventually need at least a few goals from Harkes, whose father John scored 14 league goals and helped D.C. to two MLS Cups in three years with the club.

“It’s coming,” Olsen said. “That’s just how we have always had success. It’s not like one guy having 20 goals. It’s he’s got four, he’s got three, he’s got six. And Ian and our central midfield are going to be a part of that equation and so far they have been. Lucho has helped out. Jared [Jeffrey] is helping out, and soon enough Ian will help out as well.”

He didn’t get on the score sheet, but Harkes may have proven himself the most capable of D.C.’s options to fill the attacking midfield void if and when Acosta is unavailable. That’s important, since United appeared to badly miss the Argentine playmaker when he sat out the first two games of the season due to a different injury.

“It’s definitely a different dynamic, because he can create so much,” Harkes said. “I obviously don’t have the skill that Lucho has going 1-v-1 versus guys. So the role changes a little bit. But I’m just trying to find myself in dangerous pockets, pick up the ball and keep it moving.”