Featured / Harrisburg City Islanders / USL

Down on the farm: Something brewing in Harrisburg

If you follow news surrounding the City Islanders, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about the recent signing of former US youth international Sheanon Williams. Even if you follow regularly, there’s a good chance you’ve missed what may be a growing trend on City Island.

Sheanon Williams has been a bit of a question mark as far as former youth internationals go. After a sensational season with the University of North Carolina 2 years ago, Williams came out of college, skipped the MLS draft, and tried his luck in Europe. A few injuries and a few teams later, Sheanon finally looked prepared to re-enter the American soccer scene this season when it was rumored he had signed a contract with MLS and was training with champions Real Salt Lake. The former right back for the US U-20 team then elected not to enter MLS on a developmental contract and a weighted lottery. He was then cut by his previous team Miami FC (USL-1) and has found his way to Harrisburg. I am a proud City Islanders fan, but even I can admit that this signing is a bit out of character and also a bit of a coup.

How did this happen?

Answer: John Hackworth.

Boston.com reported recently that Sheanon’s move to Harrisburg was facilitated by the Union’s assistant coach and the former director of the IMG Bradenton Academy and coach of the US U-20 and U-17 teams. Wow. I’m liking this affiliation more and more. That is technically as much we know. And if that were all, it would still be an impressive signing and more functionality than has been seen from many of the affiliations that MLS teams have made in recent years. However, this case provides an interesting place from which to explore.

Anybody want to guess how many youth internationals have played for the City Islanders since the team was founded in 2004? My semi-exhaustive research provided me with 1 other – much loved Islander Mo Odour (Ghana U-17).

Anybody want to guess how many youth internationals the Islanders have signed this season? 5.

Coincidence? Doubt it.

An Islanders roster from years past would traditionally feature players from regional colleges (Penn St., Lehigh, American, Lock Haven, Shippensburg), local high schools (Middletown HS, Red Land HS, Mechanicsburg HS), or players signed away from other teams in the professional PDL ranks or the USL. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but the hometown team definitely had a hometown flavor. The core of the team this year still has this local flair, but the Islanders clearly have a new influence in the personnel department. I would argue that influence is Union assistant John Hackworth.

Hackworth’s extensive youth international coaching resume, might have something to do with the newest signings for the Islanders this season:

  • Anthony Di Biase (age 21), Canadian U-20
  • Dominic Oppong (age 24), Canadian U-20
  • Tishan Hanley (age 19), Nevis and St. Kitts U-17, U-20
  • Sheanon Williams (age 20), United States U-20
  • Vince Petrasso* (age 20), Canadian U-20

*Still pending approval from USL league offices

Both the youth of players being signed and the pedigree these players carry raise eyebrows. All 5 signees are from CONCACAF affiliated nations where Hackworth did most of his coaching and scouting, and all fit the time frame that Coach Hackworth would have seen them line up on the field.

Did Hack go out and recruit these guys? Maybe. There is also the possibiliy that players view Harrisburg as a way to get looks from Nowak and Hack and so weren’t steered there but rather self-selected and attended the open tryouts. Both would be an amazing trend.

The counter example one would raise is former Union right back David Myrie. The story on Myrie, who was picked up in the expansion draft having never played a game in the MLS, is that Coach Hackworth had good scouting reports on him from his Costa Rican youth international days. You can certainly make an argument that Hack’s experience did not prove to be useful there. There were certainly other useful pieces the Union could have taken from the Chicago Fire or other teams, but it furthers the point nonetheless.  The Union have acted on Hackworth’s youth international experience, and the Islanders have now as well. One is left to wonder whether we are only hearing about the high-profile cases.

With the affiliation in place between Harrisburg, Reading, and Philadelphia, I am certainly interested to see how things continue to progress. Though they weren’t drafted and they haven’t entered the arena as loudly trumpeted, Philadelphia  fans would do well to keep an eye on these young prospects developing in Harrisburg. There might be future Union players among them.


  1. A bit of a coup? Actually, reading the reports out of the RSL camp, Williams sounds like a former US U-17 dud if I ever heard of one. I hope that he is really a diamond in the rough, I hope he helps the Islanders. But it doesn’t read that way right now.

    Still I am happy with the pyramid that the Union have created with Reading and the City Islanders. And I hope it bears some fruit in the future.

    • Tim Uhrich says:

      Seems far too early to call Williams a dud. This would have been his junior season in college. MLS tried repeatedly to sign him to a GA contract, and he was a force at right back and sometimes at forward for UNC and the U-20 team. He also netted against reigning champions Richmond on saturday night during his Islanders debut.

      Williams might be the highest profile example, but Harrisburg signing 5 youth internationals this year is a huge deal and a huge change. Hopefully something pans out for them, and for the Union.

  2. See, that’s the thing. Even if Williams is a dud, chances are that bringing in 5 youth internationals is going to produce SOMEONE who can make it to prime time. If even just 1-2 of these guys pan out, you have something.

  3. He scored a goal for Harrisburg in his first ever USL-2 match against the defending league champs… not a bad start.

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