Joins English League
After his impressive showing for the U.S. in World Cup play, Harkes was loaned to the English Second Division
team, Sheffield Wednesday, by the U.S. Soccer Federation in 1990. The team had been in the First Division the previous year, but had dropped to Second Division that season and was looking to move back up. Though he began his stint with Sheffield as a reserve, an injury moved Harkes up to first team. He did have to play right back, a position he had not played before.
Impressive play led Sheffield to buy out Harkes's contract with the U.S. Soccer Federation and sign him to a three-year deal. Harkes was the only American to be competing at the top level of European soccer in the early 1990s. The kind of tough competition he faced and the faster game improved Harkes's skills. He made an impact by scoring an unbelievable goal in the semi-finals of the English League Cup in 1991. By 1992, Sheffield was back in the First Division again, and Harkes was the first American to play for a First Division team.
It took time, but Harkes earned the respect of the Brits. He recalled to William E. Schmidt of the New York Times, "At first the attitude among a lot of the reporters and other players here was, 'This guy's a Yank; he can't play here.' But I think I have their respect. They come up to me after games and they tell me I've done well and wish me luck. It's brilliant to hear that." Harkes helped Sheffield win the English League Cup, becoming the first American to score in the League Cup Final. In 1992, he became the first American to play in a UEFA Cup match.
Harkes went on to play for two more English League teams, Derby County, a First Division team, from 1993-95, and then for West Ham United in 1996. While his professional career was ongoing, Harkes continued to play for the United States in international competition. He played for the United States in the World Cup in 1994.