Yesterday, we linked to a podcast reexamining what happened to the U.S. national team at the 1998 World Cup … and if we boiled it down one of the primary factors for the U.S. face-plant at France ’98 was the bad behavior of John Harkes, the team’s captain.
So, it was a bit of a surprise to bump into “Harkesy” in a news story today, while visiting The Guardian website.
And Cincinnati seems to be revealing itself as a fine soccer city, perhaps one deserving of a place in Major League Soccer.
Last month, the first-year club set a USL record with a crowd of 20,497, this for what is considered a “third-tier” U.S. league, behind the second-tier North American Soccer League … which is all a bit inexact, given that the U.S. does not have relegation or promotion.
Harkesy is in charge of the Cincinnati side, which The Guardian’s correspondent suggests plays an “attractive” brand of soccer.
(FYI, if you would like to see what Harkes looks like and sounds like, these days, here is some video taken this year.)
There is no reason FC Cincy shouldn’t be interesting, with Harkes as coach. He had a fine soccer brain and was the first American to play in the new English Premier League, in the debut 1992-93 season, when his Sheffield Wednesday finished seventh.
He scored at Wembley in the League Cup final, a 2-1 loss to Arsenal, and played in the FA Cup final one month later, another 2-1 loss to Arsenal. He later played for Derby and West Ham, appearing in 161 professional games in England back when Americans just didn’t do that.
It perhaps was no surprise that he developed a high opinion of himself, which led to friction with Steve Sampson, coach of the American team, ahead of the 1998 World Cup. According to Sampson, Harkes said he would not play left-back for the U.S. in a friendly, his regular position at Sheffield Wednesday. Sampson quoted Harkes saying he expected to play in midfield — later apologizing for the demand, Sampson said. The coach also said Harkes and two other players left a hotel room “trashed” the night before a national team match.
Soon after, Sampson was told Harkes was involved in an affair with the wife of a U.S. teammate, Eric Wynalda, and Sampson chose to leave Harkes off the World Cup side, a factor in the destabilization of the team — as discussed in yesterday’s blog item.
Harkes, 49, is doing well at Cincinnati. His club has won five and drawn two of its first nine matches, which puts them second in the Eastern division of the USL.
It could just that a player who has experienced the highs and lows of the game — on and off the pitch — might make for a fine coach.
Modern players may not know how good he was as a player, but it would be easy enough for them to find out, and perhaps someday the episodes of 1998 will be just an unfortunate footnote to his career in the game.