There’s all sorts of ways to gauge the pedigree of a player like Calvin Harris, the No. 2 overall pick in Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas.
The lanky attacker is a product of one of college soccer’s top talent laboratories, the Wake Forest program that’s churned out a long list of professionals like Ike Opara, Michael Parkhurst, Sam Cronin and Jack Harrison. Harris also played for the academy of New Zealand-based A-League club Wellington Phoenix prior to his Demon Deacons experience, where he might well have signed a first-team contract were it not for the Australian league’s tight roster limits on imported players.
The reason he wound up in New Zealand in the first place? He earned a scholarship via his standout performances as an adolescent at a club in Hong Kong. When he was 10, his family relocated there from Middlesbrough, England on account of his father’s career – which had previously included a taste of professional football in that country.
It’s a pretty decent travelogue for a 20-year-old. Now, he aims to put down some roots with FC Cincinnati, a side badly in need of the sort of creative spark Harris showed during his two years in Winston-Salem – and led by a legendary figure he hopes can bring the best out of him.
“I know that it's a club that is looking to improve and to develop and Jaap Stam’s a huge part of that,” Harris told reporters in a conference call after his selection. “And I know it's a club that can achieve things in the future and they want to achieve that, and the mentality of the players from the top to the bottom, it seems like it's all cohesive. And as for the city, I don't know too much about the city. So that's going to have to be something new and something exciting I'm really looking forward to doing.”
Harris said he takes inspiration from famous frontrunners like Thierry Henry, Kylian Mbappe and Mason Greenwood, though with his quickness and range, he may well evolve into a winger at the next level. That’s just one aspect of the learning process awaiting him as he looks to become part of FCC’s Dutch-flavored project in the months ahead.
“Having someone like Jaap Stam as the head coach is a massive reason as to why Cincinnati can be a really good place for me. I know that I'm going to learn a lot, and then I'm going to be able to develop as well,” he said.
“I like to take players on, I like to also create chances around the box and I like to play off my teammates. And with the research I've done so far with Cincinnati and Jaap and the way he wants to play, it's very much Dutch football and wanting to play with the ball on the ground and play possession. So it seems like a good fit for me.”
With struggles aplenty over their first two seasons in MLS, Cincy enter 2021 with a litany of questions to answer. Harris will look to find the right balance of ambition and humility as he makes his case.
“I think one of the main things I've learned coming to the States, to Wake Forest, is how important the mental side of soccer is,” he said. “I truly believe that it's one of, if not the most important, things that you need as a footballer. Because there's going to be a transition period, and there's going to be highs and lows. And how I take on those challenges is what's going to ultimately lead to my development, and hopefully success.”