Despite leading the club to its most successful season in its three-year history, Harrison and his teammates find themselves in a similar situation: For the second season in a row, they’re in a deep hole in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Following a tough 4-1 conference semifinal opening leg loss against the Columbus Crew, NYCFC will try and bounce back at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. (Last season, the team went down 2-0 against Toronto FC in the first leg of the conference semifinals before losing 5-0 at Yankee Stadium in the second leg.)
While the team is facing an uphill battle to advance in the playoffs, NYCFC has plenty to be happy about moving forward.
The team set franchise marks for wins, points, and goals scored in 2017, and Harrison has continued to develop into one of the best young stars in the league. Selected as the first overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Harrison has lived up to the hype over his first two years playing in the Bronx. After netting four goals and finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting during the 2016 season, the English-born winger has more than doubled his scoring output with 10 goals in 32 appearances for the team over the 2017 season.
But even if the odds are long for NYCFC, Harrison’s not showing any nerves.
“It’s a great feeling to be in playoffs,” Harrison tells Men’s Fitness. “It was important for us to get the first-round bye. We want to make the most out of it this year, and redeem ourselves for how we went out last year. We are looking to do that and hopefully win.”
Why the optimism? Consider this: At just 20 years old, Harrison is still building toward his full onfield potential.
“The harder you work in training, it will benefit you more once you get out on the field,” Harrison says. “For me, it’s important to keep my core strong, and I do a lot of legs strength and injury prevention. I work on my hamstrings a lot; I’ll use hamstring drops, one-legged hamstring drops, and I also do cowbell squats to keep my lower body going.”
As tough as it will be to make it into the next stage of the playoffs, Harrison is excited to get in front of the NYCFC faithful.
“Playing at Yankee Stadium is an incredible experience every time,” Harrison says. “Whenever we get a lot of fans out, we can always feel it on the field. It gives us that little bit of extra energy to make the extra run or whatever it is that you need to do.”
Here, Harrison reveals to Men’s Fitness the key parts of his training routine, how he builds core strength, and what it’s like playing soccer games at Yankee Stadium.
(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity)
MEN’S FITNESS: What’s your training schedule typically like?
Jack Harrison: It depends. When we come back after a game, we usually have the day off. Then, the first day back, we have a double session: we train in the morning, have lunch, then we have a gym session in the afternoon. As the week goes on and we get closer to the game, we’ll decrease the time and make sure we feel good for the game. The day before the game, it’s usually an hour long, just going over tactics and set pieces.
What are your favorite exercises to do in the gym? Take us through a typical Jack Harrison workout.
It’s important to keep my core strong. Last year I had a stress fracture on my pubic bone. To make sure there’s no more pain, I have to keep my core strong and my pelvic rotation good, so I do a lot of exercises pertaining to that. There are no particular machines or anything like that—I usually try to stick to my regular program. When we have gym sessions, our work in there is a lot of legs strength and injury prevention. A lot of it has to do with bodyweight work.
What’s your perfect training meal?
As far as food goes, before a game I try to load up on my carbs. I usually have some sort of pasta the night before. Then, on the day of, I like oatmeal. That works a lot for me. I usually have that about three hours before the game.
What’s your favorite exercise/drill to do and why? Least favorite exercise?
I don’t think I have a least-favorite drill because I know it’s all necessary—I know it’s doing me good. But my favorite is whenever we do shooting. I always enjoy doing that.
Do you like to use any energy drinks, energy bars, supplements, or other products while you’re training?
I don’t, but at half-time there is a carbohydrate gel I use. You’re supposed to take it 15 minutes before you go back out so it works perfectly at halftime. That’s the only carbohydrate gel supplement thing that I use.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career regarding your training?
It’s cliché really, but I’ve been told many times by different people that you play the way you train. So I always try to keep that mentality, and keep it in the back of my mind whenever I’m playing.
What types of training methods do you like to use besides soccer-related drills? What are some of your favorite cardio and high-intensity workouts to use?
During the season it’s always good to get some yoga in to keep everything loose. I don’t do boxing or anything like that. I think as far as in-season goes, I think as we work hard in training and if you put everything into that training session, that can be you high-intensity workout. I generally tend to use our training as my workout.
What do you enjoy most about playing with NYCFC? What’s it like playing at Yankee Stadium with the enthusiastic fans the team has?
I enjoy being around the guys. We’re all on the same page this year, and they’re always fun to be around which makes training that much better as well. One thing I enjoy most about this club is that everyone is so friendly—it’s like a family more than anything. It’s always very encouraging when you have that support behind you.
What advice do you have for guys looking to build speed like you when they work out in the gym?
Honestly, I think it’s important to keep faith. I was never really considered a fast player until about three years ago, before I came to New York. If you’re not getting the speed that you want, keep faith. There are exercises online that you can look up these days, and there are a couple of pages I follow on Instagram just to see which exercises I can do here and there just quickly before or after training. [We like these five agility-training workouts that’ll make you better at any sport.] Stick to hard work, and believe in the process.
What are some of your favorite off-field activities to do?
I like to play golf in my free time. I don’t really take it seriously. I just like playing for the fun of it really, just leisurely. I think as far as TV shows go, I really enjoy Entourage—I wish they’d make more seasons—and Game of Thrones.
What are your favorite moments and memories from the season?
My favorite memories are when our team scores a goal. When the whole team literally comes together to congratulate one person. It’s a moment to share with others—a brief moment when we’re all together.
If you could give your younger self training advice, what would it be?
I think when you are younger, it’s important to enjoy the game and have confidence to try new things. There were times when I was growing up I felt a bit restricted because I wasn’t confident enough to try something here and there, and it didn’t help me. As a youngster, it’s good to keep trying new things. If you see something online, don’t be afraid to try it in a game or in training. As you get older, the more serious it gets, you’re not always able to try these things here and there. It’s good to stay confident and not be afraid to try anything when you’re young.