RUMOR: Harkes May Head FC Cincinnati

A U.S. soccer legend might be coming to the Queen City to assume a position with FC Cincinnati, a USL expansion club projected to begin play in 2016. Wrong Side of the Pond reported that John Harkes as been tagged to be the club’s first head coach. Through different avenues, the same information has also been conveyed to StP.

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According to an StP source that specifically (and often) requested to remain anonymous, a verbal agreement between Harkes and FC Cincinnati has been reached, but a contract has yet to be signed. It is unclear what terms, if any, remain to be negotiated.

John Harkes had one of the more distinguished and storied careers of any American soccer player. He was the first American player in the English Premier League. His long range strike for Sheffield Wednesday against Derby County earned him Goal of the Year honors in 1990. He returned to the U.S. in 1996 for the start of MLS. His D.C. United club claimed the MLS Cup twice, an MLS Supporters Shield, a U.S. Open Cup, and a CONCACAF Champions Cup. He tacked on another U.S. Open Cup championship with the Columbus Crew later in his career.

He was a regular in the midfield for the national team in 1990’s, earning 90 caps and scoring 6 goals. At one time, Harkes was named USMNT Captain for Life by head coach Steve Sampson, but it was a title that he held only briefly.

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Harkes has some experience coaching at the highest level of American soccer. He was an assistant at New York Red Bulls under Bruce Arena in 2006 and 2007. In an interview with Jeff Bradley in 2013, Harkes wondered if and when he would get another shot to coach in MLS.

Although not a job in MLS, FC Cincinnati’s head coaching position would afford Harkes the opportunity to build his coaching resume. He would do so at a high level in a league whose stock continues to rise. A successful term at the helm of FC Cincinnati could pave the path to a chance in MLS.

If FC Cincinnati were to land Harkes as its first head coach, it would give immediately give the appearance of legitimacy to the new franchise. The club would be connected to one of the most prominent figures in the history of U.S. soccer. With the departure of Preki in Sacramento, and with deference to Jimmy Nielsen in Oklahoma City, Harkes would be the biggest name in the USL coaching fraternity.

StP originally reported the formation of FC Cincinnati in May of this year, but the club and USL have yet to make an official announcement. According to sources, the club is waiting to finalize the head coaching deal before going public.

Reportedly, the club is also waiting to completely work out the details of a stadium deal before formally proclaiming its birth and entrance into USL. It has been circulated that FC Cincinnati plans to use Nippert Stadium on the campus of the University of Cincinnati for the first year of competition. A source has indicated that the plan includes the removal of the first few rows of seats to accommodate a field large enough to be suitable for soccer.

The plan to remove seats to fit a proper pitch and the potential hiring of Harkes, who cannot possibly come cheaply, indicate FC Cincinnati is willing to spend money to run a soccer club in the way that it should be run. Spending money is not a guarantee of success, but having a budget to spend in the right and necessary ways certainly helps. FC Cincinnati appears to be making the right moves ahead of its inaugural season.

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