When James Sands earned the unofficial man-of-the-match honor for New York City FC after a 2017 preseason friendly in Ecuador — performing with grace and precision in an otherwise drab showing by the visitors — he closed his final audition for a Major League Soccer contract.
Four months after that night, in front of a raucous group of supporters celebrating the inauguration of their new stadium, Sands became the first Homegrown player in franchise history.
On nearly the exact date a year later, another New York City FC Academy product demonstrated his worth in front of a likewise boisterous group of fans in Mexico and began down the same path.
Brooklyn, N.Y., native Justin Haak, 17, became New York City FC’s third Homegrown player Thursday.
“It’s hard to describe,” Haak said in a statement released by the club. “You dream about it almost your whole life, and then when it actually comes — you almost can’t believe it.”
With his long locks and fluid movements in the midfield, Haak is a player who gets noticed – and the fans in attendance at Estadio Alfonso Lastras during that February preseason match a year ago were delighted when he nutmegged one of their own Atlético San Luis defenders. They chanted “Cavani” in honor of Haak’s resemblance to the Uruguayan national, Edinson Cavani. It was an entertaining routine from the teenager.
— Atlético de San Luis (@AtletideSanLuis) January 24, 2019
A member of the NYCFC Academy since the inaugural 2015 season, Haak has appeared in 90 matches and struck 20 goals. He is adept in the possession game – a deep lying midfielder who can effectively calculate the moments to venture into the final third. Haak is also part of the United States U-16 boys national Team.
Haak joins Sands and fellow NYCFC Academy teammate Joe Scally in the Homegrown stable for the senior team in the Bronx.
“Justin is amazing and a smart kid, whose story is a special one for New York City FC,” sporting director Claudio Reyna said in the statement. “He is one of the original academy members who joined our U-14s in 2015. And as a Brooklyn native, he’s our club’s first-ever signing from the five boroughs.”
After NYCFC announced it would become an MLS franchise in 2015, all Haak wanted was to one day play for the professional team in his city. Reyna broke the news to Haak that his dream was coming true.
“We were getting something to eat and he just told me, ‘We’re going to offer you a Homegrown contract,'” Haak said. “I just didn’t know what to say, but I was just crazy happy.”
— New York City FC (@NYCFC) January 24, 2019