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New York City’s Jack Harrison on meteoric rise: “It can only get better”

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(By Jack Harrison, speaking to Joe Prince-Wright)

BACK TO THE START

When I think back to the start of my journey to the USA, it was all my mom, really. I didn’t really have anything to do with it until later on. She was looking for me to go elsewhere when I was around 11 or 12 and in the academy at Manchester United, just because she wanted me to have a better education and something to fall back on if soccer didn’t work out. She spoke to a couple of people and did her own research and it was recommended to her that I come over my freshman year of high school. That was at the age of 14. When I was around 13 she introduced this idea to me.

I was really apprehensive at first. All of the little kids in the academies in England, they all think the same way. They all want to make the first team and that’s it. It is the only thing they’ve got in their brain. She helped me to have an open mind and she said to me ‘go there and visit and if you like it you can stay out there and if you don’t, you can just come back and we can figure something out.’

We didn’t have enough money for us both to travel out to America at the same time. Once I visited Berkshire School, it was amazing. One of the best experiences that I’ve had, the fact that you can go to school, get a good education and play soccer every day. The facilities there, the community there, everything was just so welcoming. It was just so nice.

In truth, I never doubted my decision to come to the USA. The support system I had at Berkshire was amazing. I am a very independent person so I’ve always kind of been by myself. I like living away from home. That wasn’t a big thing for me. I’ve grown up an only child so to be in a dorm was just like a dream come true really.

I had a lot of fun and I could talk to my friends if I had any problems or anything like that. My coach, Jon Moodey, was the biggest support for me I guess. Just because through soccer he would do anything he could to have me out on the field. Then off the field he would help me out as much as he could as well. His family has been like my second family since I’ve been out here. The only issue was the homework at first because in England it’s not really required. You’re supposed to do it but if you don’t, it’s not going to impact much. Whereas over here, it goes towards your grade. It took me a while to manage my time and get my homework done but apart from that the lifestyle and everything was pretty easy to adjust to just because of all the support I had around me.

I have so much to thank my mom for. My mom and dad split up when I was three and ever since she has done nothing but want the best for me and do everything she can for me. Without her I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve only got her to thank really for allowing me to have this opportunity to be out here and doing the things I’m doing right now. It’s all down to her.


THE BIG LEAP ACROSS THE POND

When I think about the future, I’m not sure what lies ahead. That’s exciting. I’m only 19 and I’m in the last stages of my green card process right now. I’m not sure what steps are in order to get citizenship but I think that’s something further down the line. That will potentially take a while anyway and right now I am just focusing on being here and doing whatever I can to help this club.

Looking back on my journey to this point, speaking to anyone in England I’d recommend the route I took to come to the USA at a young age. I know it’s hard to be away from home at such a young age but if you look at the benefits and the outcome of most people who come out here, it’s all been pretty successful. It’s been worth it with the connections you make and I’m just surprised that more people don’t do it to be honest because it is an opportunity you can’t really pass on.

A lot of English kids don’t know the opportunity is out there to do this. When I was first announcing I was leaving to play soccer in the States, everyone was like ‘oh. Why are you going over there to play soccer?’ It is actually much better than what I expected and I don’t think that people in England realize that the standard here is definitely growing now and developing. It is a lot better than what people think and it can only get better from here on out with the players they are bringing in and the youth players developing with the academies now as well. It is only going to keep growing and I think a lot of people in England need to realize that.

Despite what some people may say, college is a good environment to be in for young players. From the high school I was in at Berkshire, it prepared me pretty well in terms of the types of routines you get in for the day but the standard is definitely getting better in college. There is a lot of good development that goes on. I think it is completely different to what it’s like in Europe. Obviously you have the educational piece which is a part of it and I think that’s a massive difference. It is kind of hard to compare the systems in Europe and the USA because the schooling, although some people might not think it, it takes a lot away from the professional side of being a football player.

Like I say, it’s tough to compare. Where I was at, Wake Forest, they did the best they could to create this professional environment. It was good that way but it will never be as good as it could be because of the school side, which is also important. I’m not saying we should get rid of it because it is two massive parts. There’s just a difference between here and Europe. Adding the educational part on too is tough.


GOING PRO

The start to my rookie season was hardly ideal… The injury I suffered was a massive setback. It was a new experience for me. I was just glad to have the support around me. The trainers, Patrick Vieira and then doing rehab with Frank [Lampard] was an experience I will never forget. All the guys have just been great with me so far. That’s really showing in the way we are playing now as a team. We are obviously doing well, at the top of the league and stuff. Patrick has got some great ideas and everyone is believing in him. You can see that in the way we are playing.

Patrick is very demanding. At the same time he can relate to you and makes you feel comfortable. He asks a lot from you and he is never satisfied with what we are doing. There is always something we can do better and I think that’s a good thing because that’s how you improve and develop as a team. That’s the reason why we are playing the way we are today because of him and his attitude towards the team. He is a lot of fun to be around. He makes it enjoyable to come in every day. He’s been a great coach so far.

On the field the likes of Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo have just been amazing, offering their experiences to the group and to myself. People of my age and even those that are older, all we can do is listen and try and take on board what they are saying and try and perform that. That’s been the best part really. These guys, they don’t think they are better than anybody else. That’s a nice part about them because it makes you feel more comfortable around them and when you play with them. They definitely add a lot to this team.

When they talk you listen and being around them, you get the whole package. They give you lots of advice about the little things on the field. It is easier for me to communicate with Frank, speaking the same language, but David has been a lot of help too offering his knowledge and help and Pirlo is still working on his English but he tries to help communicate what might help me in a game. I just try and do my best to take it all in and try and perform what they want doing. It has been good, they have been great on and off the field.

If you look at the players on our team, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be up there with the top teams this season. As soon as Patrick came in, what he wanted was for the club to be successful and we want to win something at the end of the year. With the way we are playing right now and the way he is coaching, it is all starting to come together. I think it can only get better from here as long as we keep humble and keep working hard.


THE FUTURE

One day it would be nice to go back and play in England and the Premier League. Obviously we will have to see what happens down the road but right now I am just trying to focus on doing what I can here. If the opportunity comes up then we can discuss that after the season but that would be a dream come true, to play in the Premier League in front of all those people and at that standard as well. I think that’s something further down the road.

Everyone asks me if I would prefer to represent the USA or England at national team level. I get that question a lot. But, the truth is there’s been no contact from either the U.S. or England. It would be nice to represent my home country and wear that badge on my shirt but at the same time, if the interest is not there, then I’m open to play for the U.S. I think that is something for down the road. It is something to think about later, but right now I just want to focus on being at New York City FC.

When I was growing up I always looked up to the likes of Ronaldinho, Zidane, Michael Owen, David Beckham, all those kinds of players. But I’ve always been a massive Liverpool fan so Steven Gerrard has been up there as well.

Ahead of our game against LA Galaxy last weekend I was like, “I might have to put in a tackle on him…!’ No, no. I’m just joking! It was an amazing experience and something not many people can say they’ve done. Obviously being alongside Frank, I was on the other side of the Liverpool-Chelsea rivalry and we managed to grind out a win! It was awesome to end up facing one of my idols in Stevie G.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Tottenham

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Southampton will host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with both sides hoping to pick up three points for very different reasons.

The Saints are currently in the midst of a fierce relegation battle through 23 matches, and sit in 18th place in the Premier League, while Spurs are hoping challenge for a top-four position.

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Mauricio Pellegrino‘s Southampton could get defender Maya Yoshida back in time for Sunday’s match, however, the side will be without Charlie Austin once more, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, a number of key figures will miss the match for Tottenham, including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Harry Winks. Also, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld remain sidelined with injuries, although the latter is expected to be back soon.

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pellegrino on state of the Saints: “We are not happy with our position but in three or four weeks’ time everything can change. It’s part of our competition. I feel in our team the spirit is really good and everybody is conscious about what we need. I receive these messages from players every day, and we have to convert these feelings into stats.”

Mauricio Pochettino on potential January moves: “To be honest it will be difficult. At some point you always dream but not too much exciting [is happening]. If it happens, it happens. If not, then it doesn’t happen. We are happy with the squad.”

Prediction

Harry Kane is firing at an absurd rate recently, and Southampton’s current form is worrisome to say the least. With just four wins all season, it’s hard to imagine the Saints coming out in front in their clash. Southampton 0-3 Tottenham