Atiba Harris can be best described as a calm, cool and collected individual. The veteran FC Dallas defender/midfielder is currently in his 12th season in Major League Soccer and has played for seven different teams since coming to the league in 2006, when the was the first player from the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis to sign with MLS.
Harris, 31, is one of the more veteran players on the FCD roster. Along with veteran defender Zach Loyd, he’s also one of two players remaining from when Dallas played in MLS Cup 2010, which remains the franchise’s only appearance in the league final, at least thus far.
Having played in Vancouver, Colorado, and San Jose since departing Dallas in the fall of 2010, Harris returned prior to last season when he was claimed in the MLS Re-Entry Draft.
The term “coach on the field” is an overused cliché often attached to savvy veteran players by sportswriters, but this is one player where that saying is especially apt.
He’s been around the block,” says FCD third-year striker Tesho Akindele, who sits next to Harris in the locker room. “Every situation, he’s like I’ve been there, done that. Nothing fazes him whereas other people are thinking I don’t know what’s going on right now. He’s like, dude, I’ve been through this, it’s all right. That’s just the way he is.”
Besides having a successful career in MLS and at the international level as a fixture on the St. Kitts and Nevis national team, Harris is also blessed to have a great family with a wife and three daughters. All three of his daughters also play soccer and, occasionally, his oldest daughter even flips the script a bit to give dear old dad a few pointers of her own.
Yeah, so my oldest, Layla, whenever we do little sessions in the backyard or at the park, after each session she’s like OK, Daddy, it’s my turn,” Harris said. “[She says] I’m the coach now, and she goes from calling me Daddy to [saying] Atiba, you need to do this. So, it’s good that she’s picking [these things] up and stuff. She’s really smart and other two follow. They learn from their big sister.”
Not only is Harris extremely grateful for his family, but he’s also forever indebted to the beautiful game, which provided him with a path to the United States and the opportunity to earn a nice living playing the game he loves. So, whenever he can give back by posing for a picture, or signing autographs for fans, or just offering a kind word, he’s happy just to have that opportunity.
Soccer is my life,” Harris said. “I was telling a friend that without soccer, who knows where I would have ended up? So, I’m very thankful. Very thankful I’m here today and able to play in MLS for over a decade, and being able to help provide for my family, give back to my community and my country. I’m very fortunate and thankful for this situation.”
He also takes immense pride in being the first MLS player to come from St. Kitts and Nevis, a Caribbean island nation of about 46,000 people. Because of his success in pro soccer, Harris has become a highly visible name and face attached to his home nation, so much so that there has been discussion of him doing some work for St. Kitts and Nevis to promote tourism, a big industry back home.
We had talks, but nothing really came to fruition,” Harris said. “Every time I go back, we always have some kind of discussion about doing something, but we never really have the time, or it’s always that we’re busy here during the season, and they’re busy over there doing their thing. So I think it just has to be the right timing.”
Harris admits he has thought about coaching in the future, but for now he’s focused on playing several more years in MLS and hopefully helping FCD reach a level it never has as a franchise, winning a championship. The FC Dallas team is a legitimate title contender in 2016, and after being part of that 2010 team that came oh-so-close to experiencing championship glory, Harris is itching for another shot at some hardware.
To get that close, you work all year through the hot weather, the cold weather, the rain, the snow, everything, to get to that one game to win it,” Harris said. “We have a good team this year and last year we went to the Western Conference Final. We didn’t get over that hump, though, so hopefully this year we get all the way to MLS Cup and finish the job this time.”
But even with both eyes squarely focused on his day-to-day duties with FCD and on the ultimate prize, winning the MLS Cup, he doesn’t turn down an opportunity to pass on some of his knowledge, whether it’s to a young player or a younger teammate. He is more than happy to pay it forward and help them out.
I love working with kids in general,” Harris said. “I love being able to contribute and play a part in seeing them grow, as individuals, not just athletes, but as a human being. So, just working with my kids, it really has gotten me into that coaching mode. For now, I’m just going to enjoy playing and try to transition into that [when the time comes].”
As one of the players Harris has mentored with FCD, Akindele has seen Harris coach his daughters and has no doubt he will make a fine coach whenever he hangs up his boots. “I think he’d do a great job. If you see him with his daughters, he’s unbelievable with them, so I think he’d be a great youth coach some day.”