By, Caroline McCarthy, Sports Editor
Men’s Soccer’s newest left-back Harry Bark went on a blind date with Manhattan College, traveling almost 9,000 miles from home to a school he had only ever toured virtually, in a city he had never seen anything like before.
His beach-town home of Auckland, New Zealand may be a far cry from the bright lights of New York City, but Bark is soon becoming accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the new metropolis he represents.
“We’re literally in the middle of everything in New York City,” said Bark. “I mean you catch the number one train and then you’re in the city. We don’t have anything like Times Square back home so it’s something new, I like it.”
Bark reflected on his hometown and how there were wide-open spaces and room to breathe. The beach was only a few blocks away and it was only a short walk to his nearest friend’s house.
“It was probably one of the greatest places to grow up,” said Bark. “I feel like it would be a lot different growing up here than it would back home. Because I feel like everything’s so … close together.”
Bark grew up idolizing soccer. His father, Matt Bark, is a passionate supporter of English football and had a young Harry watching Premier games as soon as he could sit upright in front of the television.
“As soon as Matt could put him in front of a TV to watch a soccer game, he would, and it’s just always been part of his life,” Harry’s mother, Claire Bark, said. “Even now, they talk about the English Football League and they’ve got a really good relationship. And, yeah, he’s his number one supporter.”
She corrected herself.
“Actually I’m his number one supporter. But he’s a close second.”
At only 19 years old, Bark already had an extraordinary career prior to coming to Manhattan College. He played for multiple prep teams, Wellington Phoenix Football Academy, and represented his country in the 2019 U17 World Cup held in Brazil.
Though he had many achievements in New Zealand, Bark’s goal was to continue his love for soccer while also getting an education, something he says he could only do in America.
“I don’t think there’s really a university system anywhere else in the world like there is over here in America,” said Bark. “I think that’s really good because I don’t know if I could just go to college just to study. I feel like I’d lose interest where as here I’ve got football.”
Though the move was major, Bark was no stranger to starting fresh and living on his own. At just 16 years old, Bark left his hometown of Auckland and moved to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, to play for the Wellington Phoenix Football Academy.
At 15, Bark was put on the list for the U17 World Cup training camp after success in a national tournament, and from then on decided he wanted to pursue a career in professional soccer. His longtime coach, Paul Harkness, saw potential in Bark and inspired him to train at a higher level.
“He coached me from the ages 14 or 15 and he just always trusted me,” said Bark.
Harkness, now director and coach for Pulse Premier Football Limited, coached Bark at the club team level. Without his guidance or the North Shore United team, Bark would not have had the confidence to continue to play.
“He was giving me opportunities, did extra work with me, and if it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t have taken football seriously. He saw the potential in me. I guess that sounds kind of cheesy,” Bark said with a smile.
Moving to Wellington, though only a 45-minute flight from Auckland, meant leaving behind Bark’s friends, family and hometown. Still, this decision was something Bark and his family knew would be worth the risk.
“As parents, it was pretty hard to see Harry leave home,” Claire said. “But he was so passionate, and he was so driven in his goals, and we just had to support him. And in that choice, he actually flourished. He actually really grew up. It was just what he needed, he became so independent.”
Bark lived in a flat alongside his “best mate” Blake Driehuis, who also left New Zealand for the United States to play collegiate soccer at Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania. The two resided in a dorm-style apartment, similar to where Bark now stays in Horan Hall. At only 16, they relied on one another to figure out their new normal.
“It was loads of fun,” said Driehuis. “We were sort of living and figuring out the world together. Making meals and being in the house and trying to find our ways around.”
Driehuis recalled that not everything went smoothly, and sometimes dinner consisted of burnt “inedible” food that had to be eaten anyway. Through their triumphs and defeats of adolescent adulthood, the two became best friends.
“We talked about [coming to America] a lot,” said Drihuis, who was a year ahead of Bark in the college process. “I think once he saw where I was going, and opportunities you can get over here as well as getting an education, I think he saw the benefits.”
But Drihuis was not the only one of Bark’s teammates to join him in the States. Manhattan College’s junior defend- er Liam Moore played along- side Bark at the Wellington Phoenix Football Academy and even used the same agency to find his way to Manhattan College.
According to Moore, the two worked together to find an agency they felt could best represent them. They landed at Wagner & Woolfe-Elite College Sports Recruitment and worked with Dylan Murphy.
Bark committed to Manhattan College about a year before Moore, but because of COVID-19, Bark decided to spend the spring semester home.
“It really sort of helped, you know, being in the same environment training, being together, being part of the same agency, and then having him already commit,” said Moore. “He told me a lot about what he liked and why he committed, and then I gave him like a fair reflection of the facilities, you know saying like, the professionalism of the environment, academics like how easy it is to, or how hard it is, it can be you know with time management, managing your studies and your football.”
New Zealand, while under much stricter COVID-19 re- strictions than the U.S., was still playing soccer regularly in 2020-2021. According to Claire, this determined Bark’s decision to remain in New Zealand for the spring semester.
“He had guaranteed soccer here, and the US, you weren’t paying any soccer at that point in time,” Claire said.
Though Bark left New Zealand when COVID-19 was be- ing contained, the rise of the Delta variant will prohibit Bark from returning home until May 2022.
“We literally got our first like few cases of the Delta variant maybe three weeks ago, because they opened up the borders for Australia and New Zealand,” said Bark. “So Australians brought it over to New Zealand. They just locked down the country and the wait- list to get home is over 30,000 people.”
Though he is vaccinated, to re-enter the country Bark would have to go through a two-week hotel stay once he arrives. The waitlist he mentioned refers to the 30,000 people currently trying to gain entrance to one of these hotels so that they may return home.
“The demand is just so high,” Claire said. “There are just no spots for anyone. We wouldn’t be able to get it if he needed to come home in two weeks…he just wouldn’t be able to.”
The risks were high sending Bark to America during the pandemic but ultimately allowed him to pursue his pas- sions and earn a degree in business from Manhattan College. Coach Jorden Scott expects great things from Bark and sees him as a potential leader for the team.
“He’s a really nice kid to talk to. Even though he’s got that competitive and determined edge to him,” said Scott. “It’s clear that the boys like him, and he has the social skills that allow him to be able to go on with anybody. So that’s going to be really important for the long term because he should become a leader in our group.