Captain for life, at least that is the title of his biography, John Harkes is an American soccer legend. When I think of a legend, I think of a player that did something first, a player that was transformative in his time and a player that broke a lot of preconceived notions along the way. Harkes was just that player.
A son of Scottish immigrants, Harkes was a first generation American. As a Kearny, New Jersey native, Harkes had the luxury of growing up in a footballing paradise. Harkes excelled through the youth ranks and ended up at the University Virginia, under current LA Galaxy head coach, Bruce Arena, where he won the Hermann Trophy, which designates the best college player in the country. Upon graduation Harkes began his career in Albany, NY but transferred after a season to Sheffield Wednesday in the English Football League.
Then this happened:
They say all players have a marquee moment. Well, here it is. It was this thunderbolt that earned Harkes, the league’s goal of the year. Beyond that, Harkes became the first American player to play in the Premier League when Sheffield Wednesday gained promotion. He also became the first American to score in a cup final, when Wednesday lost to Arsenal 2-1 in the League Cup Final.
Harkes would play another season in the Premier League with Derby County and West Ham United. During that season, the MLS announced that it was to have its inaugural season in 1996 and Harkes signed with DC United later that year.
Harkes played with DC United, the New England Revolution and the Columbus Crew during his time in the MLS.
He also had a stellar international career. He was part of the 1990 and 1994 World Cup squads but was famously cut from the 1998 team just weeks before the World Cup was to begin. The head coach at the time, Steve Sampson, cited “leadership issues” as the reason Harkes was removed from the squad. In his book, “Captain for Life,” Harkes criticized Sampson for lacking “credibility to a group of guys who had hundreds and hundreds of caps among them” and “putting a huge amount of pressure on young, internationally inexperienced players”, and concluded, “I can’t think of one thing that Steve did right in the months leading up to the World Cup.” The USMNT lost all three games during that World Cup and ended up finishing last overall in the tournament. Harkes would be called up again to the national team in 1999 by his former college coach, Bruce Arena and would finish his career with 90 CAPS.
Harkes has been a youth director, a color commentator, and an assistant coach since his time playing. In 2005, he was inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame. He is one of the of the most accomplished American players ever and one that broke many borders for future American players. Player’s that are able to push the limits of what those have done before are true leaders and inspiration for all those to follow. We thank John Harkes for his incredible contribution to the game and that is why is this week’s Throwback Thursday Player of the Week!