Ian Harkes makes a name for himself in the College Cup semifinals

The son of a U.S. great scores the golden goal to put Wake Forest one match away from a national title

(Jack Grimse)

“It’s kind of a blur right now.”

Nearly an hour after the Wake Forest captain secured a place in the national championship game with a golden goal in extra time, the realization hadn’t yet sunk in for Ian Harkes.

Growing up as the son of the first American to play in the Premier League, there has always been enormous, even unrealistic, expectations surrounding the senior midfielder.

Even before enrolling at Wake Forest, Harkes has been leading by example. Ian captained DC United’s U-16 and U-18 teams, and was named a high school All-American.

Harkes hit the ground running in Winston-Salem. Named to the All-ACC Freshman team in 2013, he was the only member of the squad to start every game that season. In 2014, Harkes collected Second Team All-ACC honors. The past two years, he’s been named First Team All-ACC, and won the Midfielder of the Year award in what’s considered the best conference in college soccer.

Friday night in Houston might just be the brightest moment so far for the rising star.

When others start to fade, the strongest have a chance to shine. Despite having worked his socks off for a hundred minutes, bossing the middle of the park in a very physical semifinal against a Denver team without a regular season loss in the past two seasons, Harkes found the energy to burst forward.

Denver played a corner kick along the ground, and it didn’t even reach the penalty area before being intercepted. A clinical counterattack spearheaded by Jon Bakero (whose father, former Spain international José Mari, scored 139 La Liga goals and won 18 trophies) gave Wake a 3-on-1, and he picked out Harkes on the right who calmly finished across the box, through the legs of the goalkeeper, banking it in off the far post.

Ian Harkes isn’t what you’d call a goalscoring midfielder. Sure, he finds the back of the net from time to time, but Friday night’s winner was just the ninth goal he’s scored for the Demon Deacons in 81 career games. He’s much more likely to pick out the final ball to set up a teammate (18 career assists), or make contributions that don’t show up on the basic stat sheets collected at the NCAA level.

While Harkes acknowledges his strengths, he also knows his weaknesses. One of those is his pace, or lack thereof.

“I didn’t really expect it to be off a counter attack but Jon (Bakero) did a great job of breaking up the play and pushing out in front of us. He went to his left and I saw the open space in front of me, and tried to put everything into it because I’m not that fast but tried to get my legs underneath me and luckily it went in.”

Another sign of his maturity is the fact that Harkes doesn’t get caught up in the style of play. While Wake Forest can play beautiful football at times, the pitch at BBVA Compass Stadium was smothered in sand in an effort to cover up the damage done to it by American football.

Denver University tried to use this to their advantage, and also attempted to break up play with repeated fouling. But as the game wore on, the superior soccer won out.

Sunday will see Harkes and the Demon Deacons take on the defending NCAA champion Stanford Cardinals, who progressed to the final again via a penalty shootout.

Scoreless through 90 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute sudden death overtime periods, Stanford were perfect through 10 rounds of penalties against a talented North Carolina team.

It was a cruel end for the Tar Heels and defender Alex Comisa, the only outfield player not to score his penalty in the shootout. Neither goalkeeper made a save all day, but practiced finishing and a bit of good fortune in the end means Stanford will have a chance to defend their crown against Harkes and the Demon Deacons.


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