I've always had a soft spot for Kevin Harmse. Then again, I've hardly ever cheered for a team playing against him.
Let's be clear on this. Kevin Harmse is dirty. He takes liberties. He tries to wind guys up. He makes opposing players' lives worse and does it with a cheeky smile on his face. Some will say that he deliberately attempts to injure his opponents. He'll also step up for one of his teammates every time it's needed, answer every call and come out whenever he's asked, and has more skill than you might expect for a player with a reputation, basically, as an enforcer. He's not a goalscorer or a great technical man, but he holds the ball well and can play solid, fundamental defense when he has a mind to.
No wonder so many MLS fans hate Kevin Harmse. If he signed with Portland or Seattle or somebody and started going in with spikes up against Russell Teibert, I would too. In spite of the two seasons he spent with the A-League's Vancouver Whitecaps back in the mid-2000s, I'd probably be the first one on the "String Kevin Harmse Up From a Lamppost" posse. But far from playing against us, injuries have forced him out of Chivas USA and the Houston Dynamo and threatened to take away his soccer career altogether. Now Harmse is back in Vancouver, on trial with the Whitecaps as they close out their preseason, and this might be his last chance.
He's the sort of player opposing fans love to hate. But he's also the sort of player friendly fans love to love, and the Whitecaps defense might be strong but isn't deep. I hope Kevin Harmse breaks back into MLS, and for more than just playing reasons.
Harmse has played prominent roles in MLS for three years with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Toronto FC. Though never an automatic everyday player, he was almost always at least a regular and apart from his disciplinary problems seldom gave his team cause to regret it. Yet he was always sent away from some paltry sum: traded to Toronto for a fourth-round draft pick, for example. Harmse was the only Toronto FC player who came to the 2009 Gold Cup. We mocked Toronto for their selfishness, and we mocked them again when it turns out the only reason Harmse was encouraged to come was that he was being given away to Chivas USA.
Then it all went wrong. Injuries, another trade to Houston for next-to-nothing, and finally being waived. It sounds like the story of a real veteran but Harmse is only 26 years old. His first game with the Whitecaps, remember, came when he was nineteen. He's already made nine senior international caps, including that 2009 Gold Cup. He's been around the block a few times, but if he can get back into match fitness he still has a lot to offer for years to come.
Fitness is the question. Harmse isn't an all-league defender but he gets by. He can play multiple positions including midfield and is perfectly viable off the bench, as a spot starter, or in an injury crunch. But he's been plagued (the word is not too strong) with knee problems since joining Chivas USA in 2009. When the Dynamo traded for him, Houston confidently asserted that Harmse's injury problems were behind him. Evidently not. If Houston's training was too much for him, one has to wonder what Teitur Thordarson's infamous off-season regime will do to Kevin's prematurely aged body.
Then again, maybe not. Harmse was an international to the Dynamo but he's a domestic to us. We have some salary cap room, some roster space. We can afford to be patient, to nurse a still-young man along and help him get back to health. If Kevin Harmse gets back to full health he's likely to be that perfect MLS luxury: a utility man who won't make too much money, can play a variety of positions, and with plenty of edge in his game to keep opponents honest. Everything depends on if he is fit, but if so the Whitecaps would be rash not to offer him a contract.