John Harkes

@USLLeagueOne

USL League One takes its first strides

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What does success look like for USL League One?

The newly-minted third level of American soccer, below Major League Soccer and the USL Championship, debuts Friday with South Georgia Tormenta FC hosting Greenville Triumph SC.

[ MORE: PST chats with League One commish ]

Put plainly: There have never been more professional players plying their trade in the United States and Canada. Between MLS, USL, the Canadian Premier League, and select teams in the NPSL and PDL (not to mention the looming specter of NISA), jobs are there.

So what does that mean to the third tier in the United States? Good question, me.

Well first off, there are certainly names you’ll recognize. John Harkes is the manager of Greenville. American soccer architect Peter Wilt runs Forward Madison SC. One-time USMNT prospect Conor Doyle is with Chattanooga Red Wolves.

But really this feels like a chance for players who might’ve normally washed out of MLS, USL, or — once upon a time — the NASL to get a second look at growing their games at a professional level. Much like the New York Red Bulls have been lauded for producing gems from within their PDL and USL structure, League One can serve as that vehicle.

In other words, rejection by one wonky manager who only signs behemoths or European players won’t signal the end of a promising career built up through academy or college roots.

That’s not terribly sexy, though, and in truth more eyes will be trained on things like attendance figures, viewer counts, and the quality of goals that cut through the mess of highlights on social media and TV (a robust start-up TV deal will help League One here).

It will be interesting to see how USL League One teams handle success. Some, like Toronto FC II and Orlando City B, are just here to develop players for parent clubs, but most markets are going to have big ambitions. Certainly commish Steven Short and Co. will want to grow the league as a unit, rising tides raising all ships, but what happens when USL League One gets its own FC Cincinnati or Sacramento Republic? With no promotion and relegation, will the USL Championship find room for them? And how is the league equipping itself for those tests?

And player success: When a team is off to a roaring start and an MLS club offers a significant fee for the leading scorer’s services, a fee that might fund the roster for a year, how does a front office handle that for its fans?

A massive front office and cozy relationship with MLS will help, and USL owner Alec Papadakis is back on the U.S. Soccer Federation’s board of directors. Short has set himself up to be the right conduit between USL League Two (nee PDL) and the Championship. It’s not cynical to say that these facts strengthen the league and will also make owners think twice about their status in a very safe place.

Still, Friday night is an entertaining one even for those who have a pony in another part of the race, whether NISA, NPSL Pro, or some other nascent organization. Several new clubs and some old familiar faces — looking at you, Richmond Kickers — are taking shots at stardom in a combustible but growing climate.

Harkes speaks for first time since FC Cincinnati sacking

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As far as non-MLS news goes in the U.S., Friday’s announcement that John Harkes would no longer be managing FC Cincinnati came as a great shock to the American soccer community.

[ MORE: David Villa shown red card via MLS’ video replay ]

The former U.S. Men’s National Team player was sacked on Friday without any true warning, however, reports have suggested that a power struggle between Harkes and president/general manager Jeff Berding could have spurred the decision.

Assistant coach Alan Koch has been tabbed as the replacement for Harkes at FC Cincinnati after joining the club from the Vancouver Whitecaps II side.

Harkes had this to say following Friday’s shocking development:

“Although my time here was cut short prematurely, I am extremely proud of this team, the work I put in and all the accomplishments of the players and coaching staff of the inaugural season in the USL. To build something from scratch was special. From the time I signed my contract, a full eight months prior to the first match, the process of building a team, creating a relationship with the fans and the city, drawing on the passion of the city and its soccer community, and creating a major league soccer environment in a major league city was completely gratifying.

I thank God for the life he has given me and all the blessings in it, especially my family and friends. Their unconditional sacrifice, love and support has been incredible. I would like to thank  Carl Lindner III and the entire Lindner family and the owners for believing in me and giving me this opportunity.  I want to recognize the inaugural group of players for taking a leap of faith and congratulate each one of you for creating a special atmosphere for the fans. To the players we worked so hard to bring in this year, I’m disappointed that I didn’t have a chance to work with you but perhaps our paths will cross again. To the soldiers in the front office who worked tirelessly, thank you. And finally, to the incredible fans and supporter groups of FC Cincinnati – you are some of the most passionate and educated supporters that I have been around as a player and coach! Keep supporting and growing the game we all love.

In the words of the great coach John Wooden,
“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

In Cincinnati’s inaugural season in USL, Harkes helped lead the Eastern Conference side to the playoffs after boasting a 16-6-8 record during the regular season.

Report: Ian Harkes expected to sign with DC United

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D.C. United didn’t have a top 10 selection in the MLS SuperDraft, but the club is likely to end up with one of the most talented collegiate players in the game.

[ MORE: Robinson, Ebobisse headline latest U.S. U-20 roster ]

According to the Washington Post, D.C. United is expected to sign Wake Forest attacker Ian Harkes to a multi-year contract.

[ MORE: Galaxy keeper Rowe replaces Frei with USMNT ]

Harkes, 21, came up through D.C.’s academy system before playing all four years for the Demon Deacons. The midfielder has gained significant notoriety over his college career, which concluded with Hermann Trophy honors following his senior senior.

As a former member of the D.C. academy, Harkes didn’t have to declare for the SuperDraft and is expected to sign a Homegrown contract with D.C. United in the coming days.

Harkes has also been considering his options abroad, which included second-division sides in England, where he was born. Ian is the son of former U.S. Men’s National Team star John Harkes, who played both in the United States and England over his professional career.

Harkes, Buchanan named top players in NCAA Soccer

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The MAC Hermann Trophy winners were revealed Friday, with a very familiar surname claiming the men’s honors.

The awards, given to the players adjudged to be the best in NCAA Division I soccer, were handed out in St. Louis.

Wake Forest midfielder Ian Harkes won the men’s award, joining West Virginia women’s star Kadeisha Buchanan on the podium.

[ MORE: USSF rules on USL, NASL status ]

Harkes also joins his father and the first father-son combo to win the award.

Buchanan beat out USC midfielder Morgan Andrews and Stanford mid Andi Sullivan, while Harkes topped Maryland’s Gordon Wild and Florida Gulf Coast’s Albert Ruiz.

Past winners on the men’s side include a who’s who of USMNT stars like Claudio Reyna, Brad Friedel, Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola, Jordan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, and Jay Heaps among them.

For the women, Mia Hamm, Tisha Venturini, Kristine Lilly, Christine Sinclair, Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press, and Crystal Dunn dot the list.

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VIDEO: MLS Insider – Great Scot; the story of USMNT legend John Harkes

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There is a small town in New Jersey where in the past, soccer stars for the U.S. national team were bred.

Welcome to Kearny.

A town originally made up of Scottish immigrants who arrived in the USA after a thread-mill factory was set up in the 19th century, Kearny is a town adjacent to Newark. There soccer was passed down from generation to generation and it soon became a hotbed for some of the best players in the entire country.

Three of the founding fathers of Major League Soccer, John Harkes, Tony Meola and Tab Ramos, all hail from Kearny and in the latest incredible episode of MLS Insider we look back at the stellar career of former USMNT captain and legend John Harkes and how much Kearny shaped him as a player and person.

Harkes takes you on a tour of the old town alongside his Scottish father as they recall just how unique it was to have three U.S. internationals all grow up together playing the game they love on the streets of Kearny, then appearing in the World Cup finals on home soil in 1994. It was a truly unique situation that may never be replicated again. This inside look at the rich soccer heritage is remarkable, as Harkes hangs out in his local Scots-American bar and reminisces about the past and growing up in a soccer loving community.

Sit back, relax and enjoy listening to Harkes’ story as he went from Kearny to the World Cup, the Premier League to Major League Soccer and is in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame alongside his buddies Meola and Ramos. Not bad for three kids from Kearny, NJ… right?

For a full archive of every single episode of MLS Insider, click right here.