When veteran Ray Gaddis unexpectedly announced his retirement just before the start of preseason in January, it seemed at the time that it was only a matter of time before Nathan Harriel would be making his MLS debut.
The now 20-year-old was the oldest of the incoming homegrown class and suddenly found himself No. 2 on the depth chart behind Olivier Mbaizo. But Mbaizo stepped in right away with strong performances in the Concacaf Champions League and locked down the position in the early part of the MLS season. Then in mid-June Jamaica international Alvas Powell was signed, pushing Harriel down to third on the depth chart.
“It’s been a long time for me to get this opportunity, but I’ve just been trusting the process, not rushing over things, just focusing on myself and playing my game every single day in training,” Harriel said after his debut on Friday night against the New England Revolution. “I’ve just been going out to practice not worrying about if I’m going to get the opportunity this week or the following week.”
The Oldsmar, Florida native played 72 minutes in the match and while it was a questionable yellow that led to the game’s only goal off the ensuing free kick, he showed well in his first minutes for the first team.
“Nathan was very solid on the night, he won his one-v-one duals, he got forward at that right time, I thought he was as sharp as he’s been on the ball,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “In some ways this game looked easier for him than some of our Union 2 games do, maybe because of the quality of players next to him and behind him and in front of him but overall I thought he impressed.”
Harriel was recruited to the Philadelphia Union Academy at age 17 from Chargers SC after de-committing to Clemson. He graduated from YSC Academy six months later and joined the first team roster this past January.
He had some familiar young faces in the lineup with him in Friday’s match with 7 Union players away on international duty and Jack Elliott suspended. Jack McGlynn and Harriel lived together in the residency house last year and fellow Union Academy grads Quinn Sullivan and Paxten Aaronson were also in the starting XI.
“Playing with those guys, sharing that moment, was something surreal,” Harriel said.
With Mbaizo and Powell both returning before the next first team game on September 19, it’s not clear when Harriel’s next first team minutes will come. But whenever they do, if his first start is any indication he’ll be ready.