Harkes, John

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John Harkes


American soccer player

American soccer player John Harkes was one of the first to play professional soccer in Europe, primarily in the English League. He was also a member of the U.S. national team for many years, and when professional soccer came to the United States in 1996, he played in Major League Soccer (MLS). Harkes was a midfielder, but played other positions when needed.

Harkes was born on March 8, 1967, in Kearny, New Jersey, the son of two Scottish immigrants. His father, James Harkes, had been a soccer player himself with the Dundee Juniors in Scotland. Harkes was an enthusiastic soccer player from his youth. In the 1970s, he was a ball boy for the New York Cosmos of the professional North American Soccer League, and aspired to play for them someday.

Plays College Soccer

As a teenager, Harkes played club soccer for Thistle in Kearny, a soccer power. He stood out as a creative midfielder with both offensive and defensive skills. Just as Harkes was graduating from Kearney High School, the North American Soccer League folded, and Harkes had to reconsider his plans. He decided to play college soccer at the University of Virginia, coached by Bruce Arena.

Though he did not finish his degree at Virginia, Harkes's play garnered him notice and improved his skills. In 1987, he made the U.S. national team for the first time, and appeared in international games. In 1988, Harkes played for the U.S. team at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Harkes had his first World Cup play in 1990.

Joins English League

After his impressive showing for the U.S. in World Cup play, Harkes was loaned to the English Second Division

team, Sheffield Wednesday, by the U.S. Soccer Federation in 1990. The team had been in the First Division the previous year, but had dropped to Second Division that season and was looking to move back up. Though he began his stint with Sheffield as a reserve, an injury moved Harkes up to first team. He did have to play right back, a position he had not played before.

Impressive play led Sheffield to buy out Harkes's contract with the U.S. Soccer Federation and sign him to a three-year deal. Harkes was the only American to be competing at the top level of European soccer in the early 1990s. The kind of tough competition he faced and the faster game improved Harkes's skills. He made an impact by scoring an unbelievable goal in the semi-finals of the English League Cup in 1991. By 1992, Sheffield was back in the First Division again, and Harkes was the first American to play for a First Division team.

It took time, but Harkes earned the respect of the Brits. He recalled to William E. Schmidt of the New York Times, "At first the attitude among a lot of the reporters and other players here was, 'This guy's a Yank; he can't play here.' But I think I have their respect. They come up to me after games and they tell me I've done well and wish me luck. It's brilliant to hear that." Harkes helped Sheffield win the English League Cup, becoming the first American to score in the League Cup Final. In 1992, he became the first American to play in a UEFA Cup match.

Harkes went on to play for two more English League teams, Derby County, a First Division team, from 1993-95, and then for West Ham United in 1996. While his professional career was ongoing, Harkes continued to play for the United States in international competition. He played for the United States in the World Cup in 1994.

Played in the MLS

When MLS began playing in 1996, Harkes was released by West Ham so he could return to the United States. He played for D.C. United, coached by Arena, and was named captain of both United and the U.S. national team. The amount of games Harkes had been playing began to catch up him. In 1996, he had some injury problems, primarily with his right ankle, which led to him to take a two-month hiatus from soccer in the MLS off-season in 1997. When Harkes returned, he had a great season in 1997, and D.C. United repeated as MLS champions. Harkes had a similar experience in 1998, though D.C. lost in the finals to the Chicago Fire.


1967Born March 8, in Kearny, New Jersey
1985-87Plays soccer for the University of Virginia
1987Plays for the U.S. team for the first time
1988Plays for U.S. at the Summer Olympics
1990Plays for U.S. in World Cup competition; sent to English Second Division's Sheffield Wednesday on loan from the U.S. Soccer Federation
1991Signs three-year deal with Sheffield, which had made it to First Division; becomes first American to score in Wembley Stadium as part of English League; helps Sheffield win First Division title and promotion to English Premier League
1992Marries Cindy; becomes first American to play in a UEFA Cup match
1993-95Plays for Derby County (English League, First Division)
1994Plays for U.S. team in World Cup competition
1995Son Ian Andrew born
1995-96Plays for West Ham United (English League)
1996Plays for MLS (Major League Soccer)'s D.C. Unitedwas team's captain
1997Took two-month hiatus from soccer
1998Dismissed from U.S. national team before World Cup begins
1999Loaned to English Premier League's Nottingham Forest by D.C. United; returned to the United States, traded by D.C. United to New England Revolution (MLS); played for U.S. national team in Confederations Cup play
2000Daughter Lilly Emiko born
2001Traded to Columbus Crew (MLS) in May

Booted from U.S. Team

In the spring of 1998, Harkes was dismissed from the U.S. national team as it was preparing for the World Cup. Coach Steve Sampson and Harkes had a personality conflict and differing opinions of the role he should play on the field. The U.S. team flopped in World Cup play in France.

Harkes also had changes in his professional soccer life. In 1999, he was still a member of D.C. United, but the team could not afford to keep Harkes expensive contract under the MLS salary cap. He was loaned to English Premier League's Nottingham Forest, a struggling team, for part of their season.

Traded to New England

In the summer of 1999, Harkes returned to the States to play for the New England Revolution, who had acquired his rights in a trade with United. While Harkes was again captain of the team, it was also a struggling franchise. However, the team had its best season ever with a 13-13-6 record. Also in 1999, he was asked to be on the U.S. national team again by its new coach, Arena. Harkes played for them in the Confederations Cup.

Harkes was again traded within the MLS in May 2001 to the Columbus Crew. Though he had issues with how the trade was handled, his new team made the playoffs. After re-signing with the Crew in the off-season, the team won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2002.


Address: 1265 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95050-4257.

Awards and Accomplishments

1984Named Parade Soccer Player of the Year
1987Named ACC player of the year; won Missouri Athletic Club Player of the Year Award
1990Scores England's Goal of the Year
1992Named Most Valuable Player for U.S. Cup
1995Named co-Most Valuable Player for Copa America tournament
1996Named U.S. representative to the FIFAWorld All-Star Team; selected to play for Eastern Conference in the MLS All-Star game; named captain of U.S. national team; part of D.C. United team that wins MLS Cup and the Open Cup title
1997Wins MLS Cup with D.C. United
1999Named to MLS All-Star team; member of U.S. team that won bronze at FIFA Confederations Cup
2002Wins Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with Columbus


(With Denise Kiernan) Captain For Life and Other Temporary Assignments, 1999.



Acee, Kevin. "United's Harkes Keeps Going and Going and Going." Daily News, (October 19, 1996): S1.

"Forest Look to their Cyberman." The Independent, (February 27, 1999): 29.

Gammon, Clive. "Wednesday Wonder." Sports Illustrated, (April 22, 1991): 72.

Giesin, Dan. "Soccer Spotlight Again on Harkes." San Francisco Chronicle, (April 5, 1996): C3.

Goff, Steven. "Harkes Is Headed to England." Washington Post, (January 26, 1999): D1.

Goff, Steven. "Harkes to Join U.S. Team." Washington Post, (July 17, 1999): D10.

Haydon, John. "A Pioneer, for Kicks." Washington Times, (April 1, 1996): 1.

Haydon, John. "Happier Harkes has Come to Grips with MLS Ways." Washington Times, (April 15, 2000): 6.

Haydon, John. "Harkes Feels Fit After Taking a Rare Vacation." Washington Times, (February 15, 1997): 7.

Haydon, John. "Trade to Columbus Brings Renewal for Former D.C. Midfielder." Washington Times, (August 25, 2001): 6.

"John Harkes." People Weekly, (May 9, 1994): 106.

Kurland, Bob. "Harkes Is in Demand at Home and Abroad." The Record, (June 14, 1992).

Leonard, Tim. "Harkes Still Kicking Mad After U.S. Team Dismissal." The Record, (May 12, 1998): S8.

Longman, Jere. "Harkes Is Dropped from U.S. Cup Team." New York Times, (April 15, 1998): C2.

Longman, Jere. "Johnny Comes Marching Home." New York Times, (June 17, 1994): B16.

Murphy, Mark. "Harkes Hurt by Trade." Boston Herald, (May 17, 2000): 80.

Murphy, Mark. "Harkes Out to Write Wrong." Boston Herald, (June 6, 1999): B14.

Schmidt, William E. "An American with a Jolly Good Toe." New York Times, (April 5, 1992): section 8, p. 13.

Timmermann, Tom. "Coach Drops Harkes from U.S. Squad." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, (April 15, 1998): D2.

Trecker, Jamie. "Harkes Relishes Second Chance." Washington Post, (July 24, 1999): D5.

Tunstall, Brooke. D.C. "United Trades Harkes to New England." Washington Times, (February 3, 1999): 5.

Yannis, Alex. "Cosmos Spirit Infuses 2 at Tournament Debut." New York Times, (June 2, 1989): B11.

Yannis, Alex. "U.S. Players in Europe Learn More than Game." Washington Post, (November 23, 1990): D13.


"John Harkes." United States National Soccer Players Association. http://www.ussoccerplayers.com/players/john_harkes/ (January 13, 2003).

"MLS-John Harkes Player Profile." Yahoo! Sports. http://sports.yahoo.com/mls/players/3/36 (January 13, 2003).

"Player BioJohn Harkes." MLSnet.com. http://www.mlsnete.com/bios/john_harkes.html (January 13, 2003).

Sketch by A. Petruso