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From checkers to chess: Jordan Harvey on LAFC, 300 appearances and his career

Veteran defender focused on MLS Cup objective.

Imad Bolotok/Courtesy of LAFC.

Jordan Harvey kicked off his 14th season as a professional in MLS on March 3, when he was in the starting lineup for Los Angeles Football Club’s season opener against Sporting Kansas City. The left back, who joined LAFC as a free agent in 2018, marked the occasion by playing in his landmark 300th MLS regular season game, an accomplishment only 39 other players have managed in league history.

“It’s not something you think about until it gets close,” Harvey told Angels on Parade in an exclusive interview on Thursday. “I didn’t give it any thought until I got into the 290s and then I said, ‘Ok wait a second, how many games are left?’ I kind of did the math and saw it probably wasn’t going to work out last year and that it would start up this year at that 300. But it’s one of those accolades that as a defender and in my career, something I hang my hat on, that I’m super proud of.

“But again, it’s not something that you’re like at the beginning of your career going ‘That’s the major milestone of my career to hit 300.’ But it’s really cool to have done it. It’s fun to see how many people have done it, what kind of class you’re in, and I think I’m one of 35 or 40 players throughout the history of Major League Soccer to have hit it. And I’m just really proud to have reached that milestone.”

Harvey has seen a bit of everything in his MLS career. Entering the league in 2006 with the Colorado Rapids, he has been on three expansion teams: the Philadelphia Union, where he spent a season and a half before being traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps during the 2011 season. He spent the bulk of his career in Vancouver, joining LAFC as they embarked on their debut season in 2018.

For the Southern California native, a variety of factors contributed to his decision to join LAFC.

“It wasn’t just Bob [Bradley, LAFC’s head coach] but he was definitely part of that. It was everything [LAFC] presented, it was first-class. Everything they were doing, the players they were signing, the culture they were creating, was something I wanted to be a part of. And yeah, Southern California, it’s home for me, so that was a huge part of it, being around my family. I have a family now so having that support system is great, it made the transition seamless.”

Harvey also played alongside LAFC GM John Thorrington in Vancouver.

“Having gone through [the expansion year in Vancouver] with John, I knew the type of person he was, and so in speaking with him about the opportunity to come to LAFC, it was one I had some familiarity with, because I had known him for so many years that in talking to him it just felt comfortable. With him describing the club and the team and what they were doing, the culture they were trying to create, it felt really good. And I was confident in the role I was going to be taking and the opportunities they were going to allow me to have. So that was definitely part of it, in that I had a relationship with John prior to it and that made me comfortable coming in.

“And a lot of times with expansion teams you feel out of place or you feel you’re on the outside until you build some relationships and feel comfortable, and having these relationships already embedded from when we were in Vancouver, it just made it really nice to come in to this environment.”

During the interview, Harvey stressed the competitiveness of LAFC and his confidence the club can truly compete for silverware this year.

“The motivation has always been MLS Cup so every year I go in with that motivation,” he explained. “Now, maybe teams in the past I’ve been on realistically that challenge of MLS Cup probably wasn’t attainable. But again, with this team after the first year I just feel like it’s ripe for the taking. Bringing back the core I thought was massive, because I’ve been on a lot of teams where the turnover was so great that you’re almost starting from scratch each and every year. And so with this second year, bringing back the majority of the guys, and really good guys that we’ve built not just bonds but understandings of how to play with one another – I just felt like this challenge has been something that I’m excited for and again, the potential of getting to an MLS Cup is something that is real, and it might not have been with teams in the past.”

Harvey noted that playing for Bradley has given him a newfound challenge in his career, and one that he relishes.

“Playing for Bob has been an enlightening experience for me to be honest. I was talking to my wife about it after our last game driving home, and I’m trying to explain to her the little nuances this team does that the other teams I’ve been with haven’t even identified.” Harvey laughs: “I tried to explain it to her with the analogy that I feel like I’ve been playing checkers my whole life and coming to LAFC, now it’s a game of chess. And everything – the different positionings, the awareness – all of these things have been brought to the forefront and it’s really rejuvenated me in a way I didn’t expect and I’m really grateful for.”

The defender has consistently been a fan favorite where he’s gone in his career — when it was mentioned that a contingent of Union fans remain bitter that he was traded, way back in 2011, Harvey laughed and responded, “I love those Union fans, those guys are so cool.”

But he explained that he’s made a conscious decision at every stop in his career to try and connect to fans and the local community.

“Whether it be Philly and I just loved the passion and the support of the fans and it was something that was new and fresh, like I said, a blue collar mentality that I identified with. Or Vancouver, where I was given a lot of opportunity to jump into the community, whether it be First Nations or working with the Health & Hope Foundation there.”

When it comes to getting involved in Los Angeles, Harvey wants to pay back the support he was given to get him to where he is.

“Coming back to California – this is my home state, where I was given all the opportunity I could to be successful, so it’s really important to me to show the love and try to get out there and do whatever I can to motivate like people have done for me,” he said. “This fanbase makes it so easy. Not just The 3252, although they’re the loudest, but everybody is just so supportive and invested and it’s the culture that the fans created from day one, from long before…I mean, you’ve heard the stories, long before the team even came to fruition. They’ve just been the pioneers of this culture, I’m just so appreciative of that. So that’s what I try to do to show that appreciation.”

LAFC’s defense is off to a good start this year, with two goals allowed in two games. When asked about the attack overshadowing the defense, Harvey acknowledged some bumps last season, but believes the continuity on the roster will help this year.

“Giving up goals…that’s disappointing in that we want to keep clean sheets,” he said. “The style at which we attack and defend, it’s pretty fluid and so going back to last year I feel like we did mistakes, there were individual mistakes that guys did to give up goals. I feel like this year we’re cleaning that up and it goes back to what I talked about with building on what we did last year. Because last year we were learning a whole new style and a way of defending where it’s very tactical and offensive marking comes into play and guys are able to understand that.”

“...Last year, there were some criticisms on that side of things but I always knew we had a solid group and going into this year I was very confident we were going to be better defensively than last year. There are going to be lapses, absolutely, where we’re going to look back and say we could have done better at this and that. But I do feel, like I said, more confident this year that we have more guys on the same page and understanding the style we want to play,” he added.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

As for the defense being overshadowed by the attack, Harvey is content to cede the limelight to his teammates playing further upfield.

“We’ve got some amazing attackers and I’m in awe in training or in these games and I enjoy it so much. So I’m in no quarrels with them getting all the praise and everything because I truly believe these are some of the best attackers in the league so I’m just grateful to be playing with them, and it’s really fun to be part of it, to be honest,” he said.

“Who wouldn’t want to play with Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela and you have Christian Ramirez starting and you get Dio come off the bench and it’s fun to be a defender in this group. I play the ball to Diego and let him take guys 1-v-1. It’s amazing, it’s really fun to watch.”

For a player in his 14th season, that’s high praise, indeed.

LAFC take on New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

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