New York City midfielder Justin Haak says he is ready to step into a leadership role within the squad.
The Brooklyn-born 21-year-old, who signed a new contract with the Club earlier this month, progressed through the Academy ranks before making his senior bow in 2019, and has since earned more regular gametime, as he continues his development.
Speaking during the Club’s preseason training camp in LA, the New York native was asked whether he felt willing to embrace more senior duties in the upcoming campaign, replying that he would be more than happy to shoulder more responsibility for his hometown team.
“Obviously, we lost a lot of important players during this off-season but I think now personally, and for a few other guys on the team, it’s a big opportunity for us to step up and take more of a leadership role,” he said.
“We still have a lot of good senior players like Maxime [Chanot], Alfredo [Morales], Thiago Martins, Keaton [Parks.]… guys who have been doing it for a long time.
“And I've gotten the opportunity to learn from the guys who left, like Maxi [Moralez], Alex Callens and Sean [Johnson], so I think we're still in a good position now to compete for this this season.”
One of the first players to have signed with the NYCFC Academy back in 2015, Haak’s journey with the Club has been a special one.
Our third Homegrown signing – and the first from the Five Boroughs – it has been a fairytale script, and reflecting on the news of his new contract, Haak admitted it was an easy decision for him to stay.
“It was always a priority for me to stay here, being from New York City, growing up in the Academy, being a part of this Club really since the start,” he added.
A Walk Around Bushwick with Justin Haak
“I think for myself, personally, [the hope] is definitely to play consistently throughout the whole year. Last year, I kind of started mid-season, so I'm looking to go from the start now, and then I would say on the field, I'd like to focus on going forward more and being more experienced with my team.
“I'm just really looking forward to this year and trying to do the best I can.”
Reviewing NYCFC’s preseason campaign so far, Haak stated the team have been working hard to fine-tune their tactical approach, in addition to building chemistry off the pitch.
Cushing’s side have contested three friendlies so far – against Minnesota United, San Jose Earthquakes and LAFC – and the midfielder says the team are gelling nicely, with new signings Tony Alfaro and Gabe Segal settling in well.
“I would say the two main points we've been focusing on is definitely dominating the ball, which I think is something this Club's always been focused on,” he continued, “and then the second thing that we've been focusing a lot on is our pressure that we want to always have on the other team.
“We don't want to be in low moments like we caught ourselves in sometimes in games last year. We always want to be on the front foot. We want the other team in their own half, and we want to be the ones applying the pressure.
“I've been playing the majority of this preseason in a number six role; in training also a little bit in the number eight role… but I think definitely my main position this season will be in the midfield, whether that’s in the six or eight – they’re both quite similar. Then, if it's ever needed, I can play center-back.
“I think one really big point about this team is that we're a big family, so I think those [new] guys have found it pretty easy to settle in.
“I can speak for Gabe specifically – I've known him from the past in the National Team, so we've been talking a lot and I try to help him as much as I can to settle in.”
NYCFC will kick off the 2023 MLS season on Feb. 25 when we visit Nashville SC at GEODIS Park (4:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).