When Wilson Harris’ mother, Beth, moved to Kansas City from Los Angeles to stick by her son as he joined Sporting Kansas City’s academy, she got a rude awakening to the Midwest.
Beth stayed in an apartment in the South Plaza with the then-17-year-old Wilson to help him adjust to his move while the rest of the family stayed back in Southern California. The first night the Harrises were there, a thunderstorm — common for the Midwest, almost nonexistent in LA — rocked the area. Beth, who grew up in New York, had never been around severe storms in her life, so she started crying in fear.
“It was a leap of faith,” Wilson Harris said. “Coming out was the biggest thing for me, coming out to KC and just seeing it, because you never know. I’m from LA, and the Midwest, I wasn’t around it. … (They’re) polar opposites.”
Thus far in his pro career, the decision has seemed to work out well. Harris, now 21, signed a Homegrown Player contract with SKC prior to this season after eight goals in 16 games for SKC II in the USL Championship last season, earning the division’s Young Player of the Year award.
Harris, a striker, has six appearances for the first team this season as he bounces around divisions, earning his first career MLS start with a 60-minute shift against the San Jose Earthquakes on July 22 at Children’s Mercy Park. He became the youngest player to score 20 goals in the Championship, was SKC II’s MVP last year and has one goal in five appearances for the second team in 2021.
Not bad accolades for someone who admitted he didn’t know much about Sporting or Kansas City prior to his trial with the club in 2017, where it all began.
“My idea of Sporting was that they were always a good team in MLS,” Harris said. “I didn’t know much about their academy, I’d never played there, but I came here and I think I just wanted to be in that environment. The way the academy runs things and all the way up to the first team is exceptional.”
Much of Harris’ youth career prior to Sporting was with Real So Cal of the now-folded U.S. Soccer Development Academy with a six-month stint with the Seattle Sounders’ youth team mixed in. Beth moved with Wilson to Seattle for the duration of his time there, but was awaiting Wilson’s move away from California to the University of Louisville, where he was committed to play college soccer.
That’s when longtime Sporting academy director Jon Parry caught wind of Wilson’s potential via former Louisville coach Ken Lolla. The two coaches were talking about something completely unrelated — former Louisville assistant Luis Pacheco was on Parry’s radar as an academy coach — when Lolla mentioned that Harris was interested in professional opportunities. Parry got a two-for one deal on the call, eventually hiring Pacheco and getting first dibs on talking to Harris.
Parry then called Scott Harris, Wilson’s father, and expressed his interest. A deal was made, and Beth made plans to move with Wilson again with Scott staying behind for work.
Once Beth knew the destination, she didn’t know what she and Wilson were getting themselves into. She couldn’t even tell where they were getting themselves into.
“I’m from New York, so I used the F-word. I said, ‘Where the F is Kansas City?’” Beth said. “I didn’t even know that. I’m terrible geographically, but I didn’t even know. And the next thing you know, I’m moving to Kansas City.”
Alas, both Wilson and Beth say they came around to love the city once living in it, with Beth referring to it as a “second home” from Los Angeles. She’s back in California now as Wilson has grown older, but remains complimentary of KC and how it’s a “much friendlier place” than Los Angeles or Seattle.
Wilson is another by-product of SKC’s collection of homegrowns, particularly in a season where Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes has given plenty of first-team minutes out to them. In a 3-1 win against the Colorado Rapids in June, Harris was on the bench while six fellow homegrowns were on the pitch at once for Sporting, a club record.
“It’s such a big focus,” Wilson said of the team’s academy development. “And they’ve obviously put time and money into it. It’s working. I think with (Gianluca Busio) and Daniel (Salloi) doing well, and other guys as well, they want to continue doing that because it’s cheaper and it’s working, and you can profit off of that.”
Sporting looks set to do just that at any moment with Busio, likely to Venezia in Italy’s Serie A for a multi million-dollar transfer fee. If the opportunity provides itself for a move abroad, Harris remarked that he’s “up for whatever seems right for me” but also stated he’s happy in KC at the moment.
More involvement in Vermes’ first-team plans can’t hurt, either.
Alan Pulido, who was away with Mexico at the CONCACAF Gold Cup for Harris’ start, is locked into Sporting’s No. 9 role for the time being as the club’s record signing and one of its designated players. But there’s plenty Vermes likes about Harris, hence his trust to give him a debut start while Pulido was on international duty.
“Wilson has proven he’s an excellent finisher, he’s a really, really good goalscorer,” Vermes said. “He’s one of those guys that has a real knack to be in the right place at the right time. But he also adds to that and that he’s clinical around the box and finishes really well. … He has a really good soccer brain, too, in the build up of the game, as well.”
It’s a homecoming for Harris in Sporting’s next match as he returns to LA with Sporting to take on Los Angeles FC at 9:30 p.m. Central time Wednesday, a rematch of a 2-1 SKC win June 26. His family plans to bring a horde of Wilson’s supporters for the match, even as Pulido is projected to return to the squad following the Gold Cup’s conclusion Sunday.
If Wilson does make an appearance Wednesday, however, plan for elation and emotion from the people in the city he left behind.
“When these highs come, it’s like, stupendous,” Beth Harris said. “It’s like you’re stoned for three days. … He has a real support system of people, he really has been working his ass off. … When he goes out on the field and maybe takes a shot and the goalie stops it, you don’t see what he’s put into all of that. So when he gets that call to start, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s like there is a God.”