But what makes the 20-year-old New York City FC winger a top prospect? NYCFC’s technical staff and players go in-depth with their reasons ahead of the team's match at FC Dallas on Sunday (8 pm ET, FS1 in US, MLS LIVE in Canada).
World-Class Left Foot
It has to start with his left foot, doesn’t it? Harrison has used it to cut inside and abuse defenders on the dribble, send lethal crosses into the box and even to set up his right for a goal, as he did in a 2-0 win over the Red Bulls last July.
He’s also scored some impressive goals with his preferred foot, spinning Montreal defender Ambroise Oyongo to the ground before clinically finishing inside the far post in a 3-1 win last July and chipping Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen on a difficult angle as part of a two-goal effort in a come-from-behind road win on April 29.
The ‘It’ Factor
It’s hard to describe it in concrete terms, but it’s become clear that Harrison has ‘it.’ He’s got something that draws fans to the edge of their seats when the ball is at his feet, something that drives defenders mad.
David Villa knows all about 'it' – he’s got it, too.
“He has something that only a few players have,” Villa said after Harrison helped NYCFC beat the Red Bulls for the first time last July. “Every time he has the ball at his feet, you get the feeling something special is going to happen. Few players give you that feeling and he has it. He has it at 19-years-old and he has not had much time as a professional.”
So much of today’s game is about combination play, those quick one and two touch passes between teammates to set up a scoring chance. Harrison, though, goes a bit old school. His specialty is running at defenders 1-v-1. The coaching staff love that he’s direct, dynamic and unpredictable. With how NYCFC likes to play, getting the ball out wide to the wings, Harrison has the green light to do what he does best.
It’s not about track speed with Harrison, though he is one of the fastest players on the team. He uses that ability to track back defensively and win balls or to create space in the attacking third with bursts up and down the sideline and those patented cuts inside. But what separates Harrison from a lot of players is his speed with the ball at his feet.
The game doesn’t slow down with the ball at his feet, an uncommon trait among players his age, and he can go into different gears with or without the ball. The NYCFC coaching staff believe it’s one of his strongest assets.
His strength is attacking defenders 1-v-1 on the right wing, but Harrison has put his head down and done his job, no matter what the task. When NYCFC played at D.C. United last month, Vieira went with a 3-4-3 formation, but when things didn’t go as planned, Harrison found himself tracking so deep defensively that he was essentially an outside back.
“I’m really glad for him because, not just about the game tonight, in all the games we’ve played so far he’s been working really hard, really well,” Vieira said after Harrison scored the winner in a 2-0 victory at Philadelphia on April 14. “In D.C. he was working as a right back the majority of the game and never complained, always putting in the shift for the team. When he scored, I’m quite really pleased for him.”
The NYCFC coaching staff has lauded the work Harrison has put in, both during training and off the field, improving his diet with better eating habits. He he has shown a willingness to work outside of his comfort zone and on his weaknesses, including more and more with his right foot.
Humility and Maturity
All the trappings are there – he’s a 20-year-old making good money and playing in the Big Apple. But Harrison avoids the bright lights and the potential problems. Unlike teammates like Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Rodney Wallace, Harrison chooses to live in suburban Westchester rather than Manhattan.
The club says his maturity stems from growing up in a single-parent household, being taken out of the Manchester United academy and sent stateside to the Berkshire School in Massachusetts by his mother Debbie when he was just 14.
“He’s quite really mature, it reflects really well in games and situations in general and its all a credit to his [mother]. He’s a really lovely kid,” Vieira said. “He’s always asking questions, he wants to be a better person, he wants to be a better player. That’s why I think he’s going to make it because first he loves the game and he wants to improve and there’s some humility in him that I quite like.”
Although he’s no longer walking the Wake Forest campus, Harrison remains a student. A year ago, he worked side-by-side with Frank Lampard, who served as a mentor. He watches legends like Villa and Pirlo, how they train, their approach, and he tries to emulate it. When Vieira introduces a new drill at training, Harrison isn’t afraid to ask a question. He has a good relationship with the coaching staff and always wants to learn more.
“Jack still has parts of his game he needs to develop,” Vieira said. “He needs to learn more about himself as a player, as a person and as a man as well and he will need time to do that. He needs to keep improving game after game and day after day in training. When he starts to build his confidence, he will be an even better player.”
Maxime Chanot has a hard time talking about Harrison’s most impressive quality. It’s because he has a lot of them.
“What really impresses me is he’s a complete player,” Chanot said. “A lot of players you can say he has one big quality and I think Jack has many qualities.”
Having spent his entire career in Europe before joining NYCFC last July, the Luxembourg international is confident Harrison can also play overseas.
“He’s quick, good with his feet, he’s working hard, he’s a good defender and obviously a good finisher,” Chanot said. “I’m sure he could play in Europe now and play in a good club. I had the chance to play in Europe and in the next few years I wish for him to take that step. He’s a really hard worker. In training, before training, after training, he always stays to work by himself and this is really important, especially when you’re young.”
Love from Lampard
Lampard might have had a turbulent two-year run at NYCFC, but there’s no doubting his place among the best to ever play in England. As a Chelsea legend, Lampard has played with, and against, some of the top young talent in the world. And he puts Harrison right there because of his “natural ability on the ball.”
“He’s got a natural ability on the ball. Some players just know when to pass, when to dribble and they have a natural ability to skip past people,” Lampard said last July. “On top of that, he’s got a lot of humility and he’s a really good kid. He wants to learn, wants to work hard in the week, he’s not ahead of himself and I don’t think he ever will be because he’s so good. He’s a real weapon for us now and he’s got everything he wants in front of him.
“At 18, I’ve seen a lot of good players with ability and Jack’s the latest,” Lampard added. “He’s up there with as good ability as I’ve seen at that age.”
Lampard worked closely with Harrison as both rehabbed injuries side-by-side at the start of the 2016 season. And when both were healthy and on the field together, Lampard lauded Harrison, not Villa or Pirlo, as the one to give NYCFC the belief they could be an MLS Cup contender.
“For a player to come in with such confidence and ability to play so well, he’s given up an edge on that right wing,” Lampard said. “With Jack doing his thing on the wing and the rest of us coming in behind, adding goals, creating chances, we can be a team that can actually win a championship.”
To hear it from Vieira, there doesn’t appear to be a ceiling on how far Harrison can go. On the Men In Blazers podcast, Vieira said he was confident Harrison could play in the English Premier League. He doubled down on those comments after a recent training session.
“There is no doubt he has the quality to play in Europe. But now it’s how much does he want it? That will decide where and which level,” he said. “It’s not a question about the talent, it’s a question about him working every single day to be a better player. That will dictate the level he’ll play.”
Vieira also has no question Harrison could, and should, be part of England’s U-20 setup.
“To be honest I’m quite surprised we have not been approached by the FA for Jack,” Vieira said. “Knowing the level in England I don’t have any doubt Jack can play easily in the Under-20.”