Vancouver Whitecaps FC didn’t get to see much of Atiba Harris before he went down with a knee injury early this season, but what they did see was dynamite.
That sensational early season form which saw him score twice and pick up three assists in five matches has earned him a new contract for next season, as he continues his return from two knee surgeries.
“I’m very excited about re-signing with the Whitecaps,” Harris told reporters at training on Friday. “It’s been a disappointing year for me, personally – I mean we didn’t make the playoffs as a team, but hopefully next year, I can contribute and we can hopefully get better.”
WATCH: Harris scores in Vancouver debut
The 26-year-old missed the majority of the campaign after undergoing surgery on the meniscus in his right knee. Harris was originally expected to miss approximately six weeks under the surgery designed to repair the meniscus, but the 6-foot-3 striker/midfelder eventually underwent a second surgery in August to have that piece of cartilage removed altogether.
His rehabilitation continues, with him doing on-field work with trainers on Thursday before having an off-field session on Friday.
“My family, my wife was there for me,” Harris said. “My extended family, the medical staff was very supportive. I kept a positive attitude throughout the way, and even the fans dropped me mail at the end of the year to show their support, and that kept me going.”
The former FC Dallas player explained watching the games from the stands for most of this year gave him a different perspective.
“I got to see what the fans are seeing,” Harris said. “It was frustrating at times, brilliant – [Eric] Hassli’s goals, Davide [Chiumiento]’s goals, great saves from Joe [Cannon] and Jay [Nolly]. And then you saw the frustrating part, where we gave up goals late in games. We created a lot of chances but didn’t score, and then let the other team get one by us.”
Harris, who excelled as a forward at the start of the season, has played most of his career on the wingm but hopes new head coach Martin Rennie sees him as a forward.
“I haven’t sat down and had a one-on-one discussion with [Rennie],” Harris said. “I want to play forward, but if he sees me playing in a different role, I’ll do what’s best for the team and give my all on the pitch.”
Rennie said the decision to re-sign Harris wasn’t just down to his start this year, but his body of work in Major League Soccer over the past few seasons.
“I’ve seen him before, obviously I’ve watched a lot of Major League Soccer over the years,” Rennie said. “The team missed him when he was injured. I think he started the season really well - he brings a lot of power and aggression and competitiveness, which is an important aspect we need to keep adding to this team. He’s experienced in this league and he’s done well before, so hopefully he can be injury free and contribute for us.”
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com