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Harkes’ soccer journey paved with historic achievements

Greenville Triumph


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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Greenville Triumph Head Coach John Harkes has been at the forefront of history throughout his soccer career.

But his soccer journey began at a young age.

Born in Kearny, New Jersey to Scottish immigrants in 1967, Harkes and his siblings were surrounded by soccer.

“We kind of grew up just playing the game,” said Harkes. “We loved it. My dad played and coached, and he coached…every single day the number one thing was soccer.” 

He quickly separated himself from others. After a successful college career at the University of Virginia, he debuted for the United States Men’s National Team in 1987. The following year, he reached the Olympics, ending a decades-long drought for the U.S.

14 Dec 1996: John Harkes of the United States celebrates during a World Cup game against Costa Rica at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, California. USA won the game, 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport

“It was the first time in 40 years, so there was a huge absence of us representing at the world stage.”

The opportunity suddenly thrust Harkes onto the same stage as some of the players he had idolized as a kid. Now he had to compete against them.

“You have two ways to go from there,” Harkes said. “One is you’re in awe and you’re in shock or two you say ‘I want more.’ And I wanted more.” 

That was just the first in a long list of professional accomplishments. In 1990, Harkes and his teammates formed the core of the U.S. team that would compete in three World Cups throughout the decade (1990, 1994, 1998).

During that time healso played for Sheffield Wednesday in England, a storied franchise. There became the first American to play at historic Wembley Stadium.  

“It’s like a story unfolding. It’s like ‘what am I doing? What’s happening; it’s all happening,’” Harkes recalled. “Everything was coming so fast, and it was rapid.”

During his international career, another opportunity came to join a new league startup called Major League Soccer. It was a risky move with a lot of unknowns, but Harkes was on board. 

“We were salesmen of the league,” Harkes said. “Everybody was. And so you took a responsibility and accountability to grow the game. And I think that’s just been my journey.” 

He was the first player signed to D.C. United, and won two titles with the club. He continued playing until injuries led him to retirement in 2003. He spent a few years as a color commentator, commentating the FIFA World Cup, among other notable events. After his time in the broadcast booth, Harkes went from analyzing plays to diagramming them.

20 Oct 1996: John Harkes of the D.C. United dribbles the ball during the United 3-2 MLS Championship game win over the Los Angeles Galaxy at Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport

In 2015 he became the head coach for MLS club FC Cincinnati. And after three seasons, Harkes found himself once again at the forefront of history: joining the new League One to coach the Greenville Triumph. 

“I was just going to be a consultant, but also from that side they were like ‘hey do you want to coach?’ I was like ‘whoa, wait a minute.’ But eventually I agreed to coach and I thought ‘yeah let’s do it,'” said Harkes.   

Greenville Triumph Head Coach John Harkes at his introductory press conference in 2019. (WSPA)

In just two seasons, he’s been named ‘Coach of the Year’ and won a league title in 2020.

But as always, he’s pushing forward. Making history on the pitch.

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