John Harkes has spent a great deal of time and energy promoting DC SCORES through the Athletes for Hope Who Gives? Racing for a Cause challenge -- boosting the organization into 6th place out of 53 causes to support. He's helped us raise close to $4,000 as we push toward our goal of $10,00 with 10 days remaining in the competition.
And now he has taken the time to tell us all about his illustrious soccer career that spanned 14 years. On Tuesday afternoon, Harkes spoke with DC SCORES about everything from playing in Europe to his World Cup experience.
What inspired you to get involved with the Athletes for Hope Who Gives? Racing for a Cause challenge and why choose DC SCORES as your charity to fundraise for?
“Working with Athletes for Hope has been great. … I’ve been involved with DC SCORES since 1996 when I came back from (playing in)
“I thought they made a big difference to a lot of kids in school and more importantly in their life overall.”
What’s it like to be fundraising alongside – and against -- other big-name athletes like Steve Nash and Lance Armstrong?
“That’s something I was going to ask (Nash) – what’s it like being there against me (laughing)? Steve and I are good friends. We’ve played soccer together up in (New)
“So, yeah, it’s a challenge. To see him above me (in the standings) right now, I’m not happy.”
Speaking of being competitive, what was it like being the first American to ever play in the English Premier League?
“It was really an eye-opening experience, one that defined me as a person, not just as a player. Really just breaking down those barriers was the most important step and a challenging one, a huge challenge, because at that time, if you think about it, (European players) looked at the Americans as if like, ‘You know, what are you even thinking about coming over here to play professionally?’ At that time the American soccer player was looked upon as basically a joke. We hadn’t accomplished anything internationally.
“It was hard. They made it difficult for me. But at the same time, when you show the talent that you have and desire and belief in yourself, things can happen. So I was lucky that it did.”
And then you became the first-ever player for D.C. United in the inaugural season of Major League Soccer. Was there a lot of uncertainty not knowing what the team and league around you would resemble?
“There was a lot of uncertainty at that time, whether or not the league’s even going to take off or whether it’s going to survive. You know, where do you go from here? It was a gamble, but it was obviously well worth it. You see where we are today in terms of the growth.
“To be one of the pioneers and the first founding guys in the (MLS), it made sense looking back on it.”
And then you won back-to-back MLS titles in your first two seasons.
“I think winning the first MLS Cup was the hardest thing to do because our season started off so poorly. … I think we always knew that we would get there, because we had a lot of talented players. But it just wasn’t going so well in terms of the results.
“Once we won it the first time, I think it was a belief in ourselves in the second year that we can repeat. … What a talented group we had back then. I’d put that side up against anybody in the league today.”
You also played in two World Cups for the
“It’s hard to describe, because it’s nothing like anybody has ever experienced before. Even fans and players and friends that I know that are into other sports, that have been to World Series and Super Bowls, they go to a World Cup and just as a fan observing, it’s like, ‘Wow, it’s incredible, what an event.’
“But as a player to step on the field -- and any chance you get to represent your country at the highest level is an absolute honor. But to do it in that capacity is just something that’s untouchable. … You’re overcome with passion, pride, just excitement, really.”
Do you have a favorite for the upcoming World Cup and how do you think the
Since retiring, you’ve worked a few broadcasting jobs. What’s it like being a commentator as opposed to being down on the field?
“There’s a huge responsibility in commentating to make sure that you respect the game in the right way and you tell it in the right way. It’s different because when you’re on the field, you’re playing, you’re giving everything you’ve got, 100 percent, there are so many emotions that you go through in the course of a game. As a player, that’s something that’s part of your job, but it doesn’t even feel like a job because you love it so much.
“Calling a game, you’re doing it for the bosses of ESPN. And you have responsibilities everywhere, really. To the game itself, to the players, to the coaches, to the fans that are listening.”
Was it at all hard at first being in the press box and not down on the field?
“Not really. You always miss playing the game at that level, because that’s just your competitive nature. But I think for me, being a realist, you’ve got to check your ego at the door and just say, ‘I’ve had a great career, I’ve moved on.’ I was very fortunate to play 14 years at the top level. I was very lucky to be on some good teams with great managers and win a lot of championships.”
And most importantly, why should people choose DC SCORES to donate to over the next 10 days in the Athletes for Hope giving contest?
“Well, basically, it’s been such a great cause. And if the people take time to really give back and see what the program’s like and what the organization’s doing for the kids and the schools – the public-school system, the underprivileged kids that are out there – they’re going to recognize how important that really is and bring high value to it. So they should get involved.”