In the end for Ian Harkes, signing with D.C. United was an easy choice.
The 2016 MAC Hermann Trophy winner for his play as a senior at Wake Forest possesses a British passport, acquired by being born in England while his father, John Harkes, played several years before being part of the inaugural United team in 1996. That passport could have made pursuing European opportunities easier for the younger Harkes. But after some consideration, Harkes decided to become United’s 9th homegrown player, joining the club his dad helped make famous in the early days of MLS.
“I knew D.C. was the right decision all along,” Harkes told the assembled press on Tuesday at the Black-and-Red’s media day.
Harkes has been on the radar of United for quite some time, having joined the Academy all the way back in 2009. He then went on to captain both the U16 and U18 teams for D.C. United, before heading to Wake Forest to star over four seasons.
This year might have been his finest, as he scored five goals and assisted on four other goals while leading the Demon Deacons all the way to the College Cup final.
After Wake lost in penalties to Stanford University, Harkes knew he’d have a decision to make for his future, and got in touch early with the brass at United.
“I finished up school, and it was a whirlwind at the end, trying to figure out what the next steps were,” said Harkes. “I got in touch with Ben and Dave after the College Cup and knew that I was a homegrown with the team. I just took a little bit of time to look at different options.”
But as the team announced yesterday, Harkes decided his future was in the nation’s capital, donning the same black and red jersey that his father did years ago.
“I’m thrilled to have Ian be a part of D.C. United. It’s a fun thing to having seen him as a kid, play with his father, and now to see him with this club,” head coach Ben Olsen said on Tuesday. “I’m a romantic with this club, and I love the story behind it.”
And while there will be plenty of comparisons made, Ian made it known that his father did not have anything more than advice to offer his son as he made his decision.
“He was happy I got a chance to play at the next level. He was saying that I have to go with my heart, and be happy about where I want to play, and choose an environment that is really going to push me at the next level,” the younger Harkes said from RFK Stadium’s media room. “He thinks D.C. United is one that can do that.”
The next question now for Harkes is how quickly he can carve out a spot for himself in this year’s lineup. Olsen said on Tuesday that Harkes wouldn’t come into preseason as the presumptive starter. He has work to do in that department, with Jared Jeffrey and Julian Buescher providing competition at the ‘8’ role, and Marcelo Sarvas and Rob Vincent the incumbents at the ‘6’ spot.
That said, Olsen believes that Harkes is capable of filling both positions. So it might just be a matter of time before the soon-to-be 22 year old will line up on the same field that his dad first did 21 years ago.
“He can be a 6 or an 8. He has a very calm demeanor on the ball. He’s very mature in the way he plays. He’s going to fight for playing time,” said Olsen. “He’s got a very bright future, and he has all the tools and skill-set to have success at the MLS level and beyond.”
Fellow homegrown player Bill Hamid, had plenty of praise for a player who, like Hamid himself, has spent much of his young career with D.C. United.
“I feel like a senior in high school, and I’m watching the freshmen come in. All the young guys seem like they have great heads on their shoulders,” Hamid said of Harkes, and the other rookies who took to RFK’s training field for the first time on Tuesday. “We have a good track record of bringing in young players that have good mentalities, that work hard, believe in their ability, and want to be a part of this team.”
And as Harkes made it all the way from the academy in 2009 to the first team in 2017, it marks the culmination of a long and arduous journey, one that Hamid is all too familiar with.
“It’s not easy going through the ranks. There’s a lot of players that you play with in the academy ranks that are vying for the same exact thing that you want,” said Hamid. “It’s not easy. So it’s good to see kids continue to take their chance, make their mark, and make it to the first team.”
Harkes has walked through the doors at RFK Stadium plenty of times before. Whether it was from coming to games with his dad at an early age, or training with the academy in his teenage years, Harkes is very familiar with United’s home. But there was something different about his latest journey into RFK, now officially a part of the club.
“It’s surreal. It’s weird to keep thinking about it and say that you’re a part of the team,” said Harkes. “The staff and the team have been great so far, welcoming in the new guys. You feel right at home. It feels like a family atmosphere.”