The New York City Football Club finally exorcised their demons in a tidy 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, Sunday. And in the process, they may have also found an angel by way of a 19-year old phenom.
Jack Harrison has been on a tear since entering the lineup following a pelvic malady that limited his participation in NYCFC's preseason and early-spring activities. He’s now worked his way back to full health and the Englishman has quickly found his form in just a manner of a few games.
City is now 7-5-6 with a conference-best 27 points, one ahead of the Philadelphia Union. Harrison’s ascension has come at the same time that the Blues’ Big Three of Frank Lampard, David Villa, and Andrea Pirlo have finally begun to collectively earn their hefty designated player payments.
The squad’s dramatic turnaround in the Eastern Conference standings has been stunning – especially considering many experts were providing last rites to the franchise following a rough patch that saw them endure a five-match stretch where they didn’t win a game, including a four-game winless streak at Yankee Stadium.
But since Harrison has come aboard, it’s been no coincidence that City is back atop the conference and one of the more potent offenses around. NYCFC is averaging a conference-best 1.5 goals per game, with only the Montreal Impact able to match that output.
The win over the Red Bulls was a boon for City, as within the locker room, many now believe the victory can be the impetus for something great. NYCFC lost its first four games in the Hudson River Derby to the Red Bulls -- including a 7-0 massacre in the first meeting of 2016 -- before winning on Sunday. The win allowed them to take the lead in the conference, and the difference has been the neophyte Harrison.
A rookie in name only, Harrison has bagged two goals and two assists in his first five games – four complete matches and a late-game cameo in that brutal drubbing to the Red Bulls. And since the forward’s increased role, City is 3-1 in those four full games.
Harrison’s recent tear has drawn praise from both his coaches and teammates alike, including the league’s leading goal scorer in Villa, and manager Patrick Vieira.
Villa, who scored a goal off a Harrison assist on Sunday, has been impressed.
“I’ve spent a lot of years in this game, and he has something important that only a few players have,” Villa said. “When he has the ball at his feet, you get the sensation something is going to happen.”
That’s high praise considering Villa has seen and played with the best, including legends like Lionel Messi at Barcelona and Xavier "Xavi" Hernández Creus and Andres Iniesta with Barcelona and the Spanish national team.
Vieira was equally impressed and said sky’s the limit for the rookie. The manager also reasoned that he no longer considers Harrison a newbie.
“’Rookie’ doesn't mean nothing for me. To me, what’s important is talent and this is the reason why we went for him in the draft, because we watched him play a few games and he had something really special and something that we didn't have in our squad,” Vieira said. “He was out four to five months with injury. And we know in football you need another three or four months to get to your best. I’m really pleased with the way he’s played, but I’m most happy with his commitment and hard work in training … I still believe the best is still to come.”
They’ll need for Harrison to raise his game even higher, as City embarks on a three-match stretch away from the Stadium. The games won’t be afterthoughts, as they’ll take on the New England Revolution (19 points) on July 6, the Western Conference’s Sporting Kansas City (25 points) on July 10, and finally the Impact (24 points) on July 17, before their rematch with its cross-river rivals on July 24.
By the time the Red Bulls rematch occurs, Harrison should be even better and more seasoned – a frightening thought for the rest of the league.
-Harrison has been preparing for this type of impact for years. He first earned a place in Manchester United's academy,leaving England for the Berkshire School, which is a selective boarding and college prep institution in Sheffield, Massachusetts, on a soccer scholarship. The move paid immediate dividends, as Harrison earned a scholarship to Wake Forest, where he posted 8 goals and 11 assists as a freshman, earning NCAA First Team All-America, ACC Offensive Player of the Year, and ACC Freshman of the Year honors.