Ian Harkes, in one way or another, has lived through more Open Cup moments than most. That’s what happens when you’re the son of one of the country’s most accomplished players – his dad, John Harkes won the 1996 title with D.C. United and the 2002 championship with the Columbus Crew.
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((A former star with Wake Forest, Ian Harkes has big shoes to fill)
When Ian Harkes was just a bouncing 1 ½ year-old, his father was off captaining an all-conquering United team that captured an MLS Cup/U.S. Open Cup double within a 10-day period (Oct. 20-30) in 1996 – Major League Soccer’s inaugural year. Before Ian’s time, his father had plenty of Cup success in England too, having won the 1991 League Cup with Sheffield Wednesday and finished runner-up in both the 1993 FA Cup and League Cup with Derby County.
Open Cup Appreciation Early
“Ian has full appreciation for the Open Cup, without a doubt, the way it was discussed in our house,” John Harkes told ussoccer.com. “Cindi and I raised Ian and our two daughters to appreciate every moment in soccer. Special moments don’t come often.”
Of late, Ian Harkes has been making his own Cup history for the family scrapbook. Last year he scored his first goal as a professional when D.C. United beat lively amateurs Christos FC 4-1 in the Fourth Round. This year, he opened the scoring in the 25th minute as D.C. United eliminated North Carolina FC (of the second-division United Soccer League - USL) in a penalty shootout after playing to a 1-1 draw in another Fourth-Round match at the SoccerPlex.
“I always knew the Open Cup was modeled after the FA Cup,” added Ian, still just 23 and a former standout at collegiate soccer power Wake Forest. With his United team on the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings, the 2018 Cup’s a chance for some positive vibes in a team suffering through rough league form. “It’s always exciting; it gives teams a chance to shine. It’s cool because it gives underdogs in the U.S. a chance too. I knew D.C. had success with the Open Cup in the past. Definitely, 2013, I was proud when D.C. United won it. I’ve been a fan my whole life.”
D.C. United defeated Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium to capture that 2013 title and also won the 2008 Final against the Charleston Battery (USL) at RFK Stadium in a year that was the last time a team from below the top-flight of MLS reached the championship match. “I always had this interest in the Open Cup,” John Harkes said. “The history of it. I loved the structure of it, and how it’s open to any team. In ’96, for me it was more about the education I received playing in FA Cups in England and correlating that to the U.S. Open Cup. I always valued it, just like any domestic league tournament.
(John Harkes - Ian's dad - in his heyday for D.C. United)
John Harkes also experienced the disappointment of Cup knockout competition. He played for the New England Revolution in a 1-0 loss to the all-amateur Mid-Michigan Bucks (now just the Michigan Bucks) in 2000, among the biggest upsets in the tournament’s long 105-year history. While coaching FC Cincinnati in their first year as a club, Harkes guided the team to a Second Round win before being eliminated in the Third Round by the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2016.
“I tell the kids, ‘You can’t remember all the downs and mistakes; you’ve got to play through them’,” note the elder Harkes, who went on to earn 90 caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team and play in two World Cups. “The best players have amnesia, they learn from their mistakes and move on. There are a lot of giant-killers out there and I think it’s special for those clubs.
“Whenever I was a player, I wanted to play the strongest team we could [in the Open Cup] because we want to win this thing,” Harkes went on. “At Cincinnati, I said let’s go for it, we want to win every game. It’s a special tournament, steeped in history and tradition, and you want to say you competed for it. It’s a prestigious tournament and I really hope it gets to the point U.S. Soccer and mainstream media give it special honor.”
Deep Open Cup Roots
The Harkes family goes back even farther than the two most recent generations in Cup competitions. Ian’s grandfather and an uncle – both named Jimmie – played for the Kearny (N.J.) Scots American AC teams in the U.S. Amateur Cup. The Scots Americans won five consecutive American Soccer League titles (1937-41), advancing as far as the Semifinals of the 1935 U.S. Open Cup. “They always said to us, no matter what we did, ‘You’ll never beat that record’ – five straight championships,” Jimmie Harkes Jr. recalled.
(Ian Harkes in action for DC United against Columbus Crew)
With a proud – and demanding – family tradition to carry on, the most recent in a line of Harkes boys is set to make his own mark on the historic U.S. Open Cup. He’s four wins away from putting his first piece of hardware in that family cabinet.