Mharris_mikerussellfoto-2 Mike Russell/
Player Spotlight

Flip-Throw Expert Wants To Show He Belongs in MLS

RIght back Michael Harris' amazing flip-throw is the stuff highlight reels are made of, but the MLS hopeful may not be getting a fair shot from those who see the skill as a gimmick.
ASN Slideshow Mharris_mikerussellfoto-1
BY Brooke Tunstall Posted
January 15, 2014
6:55 PM
IN THE SMALL And insular world of American college soccer, few topics were more divisive during the 2013 season than that of the unique skill-set of Michael Harris, a senior right back from the University of Washington.

Harris is one of the few players in American competitive soccer history to use a flip-throw—that is using a somersault on throw-ins to launch the ball half-way across the field, usually into the opposing 18-yard area. Watch the second half of the video below for some astounding footage of Harris' flip-throw in action.

It’s effective: Harris’ 10 assists led the competitive Pac-12 in that category and was 7th in Division I and tops among all defenders. But it didn’t come without its share of critics from message boards, opposing fans, players, and coaches.

“Other teams, their fans, their players, and bench would be yelling, complaining, saying things like, ‘It’s not soccer, you’re slowing the game down, you’re using your hands to score,’” Harris told American Soccer Now. “But look, it’s a weapon that I have—that we as a team had—and I’m not going to not use it just because some people don’t like it. Whatever. It helped us win.”

Indeed, the Huskies finished 16-2-4, posted 10 shutouts, spent part of last season ranked No. 1 in the country, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament—the best showing in the program’s history. Despite the team’s success and the stats Harris posted, when it came time for postseason awards, Harris was overlooked.

He was only named second team all-conference and was left off the All-America squads. Worse, Harris, who reached junior nationals as a gymnast till giving up the sport at age 12 to focus on soccer, didn’t receive a coveted invitation to Major League Soccer’s annual Florida combine, where league coaches gather to evaluate the top prospects ahead of the league’s SuperDraft.

Was that blow-back from the flip-throw?

“Absolutely, 100 percent because of it,” said longtime MLS defender Craig Waibel, who was Harris’ assistant coach at Washington until recently accepting a similar position with Real Salt Lake. “Because it was so effective he became known as the flip-throw guy, and some people hold that against him. I don’t think he got recognition for what else he does as a soccer player. But he’s a very good athlete and he reads the game well and he rises to a challenge.”

While Waibel is admittedly biased, he’s not alone in his opinion of Harris’ ability.

“I think if you took away the flip-throw he’s still a good prospect at right back,” said former MLS defender and U.S. Olympic captain Brian Dunseth, who called several Washington games for the Pac-12 Network. “Watching him play the past two years, yeah, you’re going to notice the throw first. But he’s actually a good 1-v-1 defender and good with the ball at his feet. He reminds me in terms of ability of Chris Wingert.”

A 10-year MLS veteran who has made one appearance with the U.S. national team, Wingert was last seen starting in last month’s MLS Cup. So a comparison to him is heady praise.

“I’m not going to say he’s ready to start in MLS right now,” said Waibel. “But not many college players are ready to step into MLS, and it gets harder to do that every year. But he’s as good as any of the other players being considered for outside back slots coming out of college.”

And what of the flip-throw? Would an MLS team be willing to use it in a competitive game despite it being seen by some as a gimmick and not true to the beautiful game?

“Absolutely,” said Dunseth. “They may not admit it, but if you pushed most MLS coaches, they’d use it, especially down a goal late in a game. They’d be foolish not to. I think the reason it hasn’t been done is because they haven’t been players that could do it. But if you had a player that could do it, why wouldn’t you?”

While not a flip-throw, several MLS teams are more than willing to use long throw-ins. Philadelphia right back Sheanon Williams is considered to have the longest throw-in in MLS, and last year he finished with seven assists—tops among defenders—with most coming from throw-ins. Waibel says that as effective as Williams’ throws are, they pale in comparison to Harris's rocketlike flip-throw.

“I’ve seen other players’ long throws and I think of them as mildly distant compared to Michael’s,” Waibel said. “His aren’t just much longer, they’re more dangerous.”

And there’s at least one MLS coach who has had a player use the flip-throw before. Voga Wallace starred at Virginia in the early 1980s and he sometimes used a flip-throw that even back then opposing coaches sometimes objected to. Wallace’s college coach was none other than Bruce Arena, now the boss of the Los Angeles Galaxy. (The Galaxy lost their starting right back in the off-season, by the way, and just signed a six-foot-four forward who would probably make a pretty good target for some long throw-ins.) Harris is not completely off the MLS radar. He recently participated in a combine the Seattle Sounders hosted in Las Vegas, and felt he did well. Even then the Sounders had him limit his long throws.

“They said they knew I can do the flip-throw but try and keep the game flowing,” Harris said. “I thought I did OK in Vegas. I know the Sounders know about me and the other teams I know—Portland and Vancouver—have seen me play and hopefully the other teams that watched our games on the Pac-12 network have seen me.”

Dunseth also believes there’s some marketing potential behind the flip-throw. “While some may not like it, there are a lot of others who will think it’s cool," he said. "It certainly is unique and it makes for a great highlight.”

Before that can happen, however, Harris has to wait through tomorrow’s draft and hope to hear his name called, either by a team that sees him as more than just the flip-throw guy or thinks the flip-throw is enough a weapon to make Harris worth taking a chance on.

“I’m going to get to MLS somehow,” Harris said. “If I don’t get drafted then hopefully I get invited to a camp. But if I don’t I’ll go to a USL team and show I belong."

"There’s a place for me, and what I bring to a game, in MLS.”

It should be noted that Waibel was undrafted coming out of Washington and had to start his career in the former A League before starting a career that ended with him having won multiple trophies. “I turned out all right,” Waibel joked. “Michael just needs games to get used to a higher level of speed and going against better attackers. But once he gets that I think he’ll be able to play in MLS.”

What do you think of the flip-throw? Does it belong in the game? Share your take below.

Brooke Tunstall is a veteran journalist who has covered Major League Soccer since its initial player dispersal draft. This is his first piece for American Soccer Now, and you can follow him on Twitter.

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