When Jalen Neal received the news that he would be called up to his first training camp with the men’s national soccer team, he was told to shut up until the roster was announced.
That was not a problem, he said.
“I told my close family and stuff,” he said. “But otherwise, no. I’m pretty good with private information.
However, for her mother Sarah, secrecy was a big problem.
“That was really…” he began. “It was hard.”
Difficult because the call for the selection was a prize for both the mother and her son, a 19-year-old defender from the Galaxy. A reward for the countless hours Sarah Neal, a soccer single mom, spent driving her son to and from practices and tournaments. A reward for the weekends and vacations, the late nights and early mornings that she dedicated to soccer.
“Jalen and I spend a lot of time together in the car, eating dinner and doing homework. It seems so exhausting,” she said. “But it was absolutely worth it.”
Neal will get a chance to play his first game for the national team on Wednesday when the United States takes on Serbia at BMO Stadium in their first game of the 2026 World Cup cycle. The United States will close out its week-long January camp on Saturday. when facing Colombia at Dignity Health Sports Park.
But Neal said the games are just a bonus.
“The amount of playing time I get doesn’t really affect me,” he said. “What I can get out of training and being around all these guys that I’ve met who have a lot more experience than me, just, you know, feeding off of them, can be a huge benefit to my career.
“You just learn little professional tips, little things about how to take care of your body, your mind. As a young guy, you see what these older guys are going through off the field. And it makes you realize how many responsibilities I have in the future. You can only focus on football right now.”
There are other benefits to a first-team call-up, which Neal was only too happy to share, standing up during a Zoom call to model a blue Nike hoodie and a pair of black sweatpants, part of the gift package he received. when I was at camp. open last weekend.
“The benefits that come with the men’s team are a little different,” he said.
Neal played his first game in a Long Beach area league when he was 3 years old. At 5, he was playing with boys three years older and his soccer IQ was through the roof, as he knew how to return the ball to the goalkeeper to build up an attack. The parents of his teammates insisted that he was on the wrong track, but in fact, Neal’s soccer fundamentals were stronger than theirs before he started elementary school.
Neal joined the Galaxy’s academy at age 15 and played 48 games for the USL Championship affiliate team before making his first-team debut in May in a US Open Cup match. He also helped helped the US qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics, anchoring a defense that allowed just two goals in seven games to win the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship last summer. That performance earned him a selection to the All-Tournament Team.
He also convinced coach Greg Vanney that Neal is ready to take on a much bigger role with the Galaxy this season.
“This is going to be the year that Jalen Neal needs to step up and give us some depth and growth,” he said. “Jalen is ready to start entering the first-team environment.”
Neal has been immersed in an athletic environment his entire life. Older brother Mark, 24, is a semi-pro soccer player and his younger brother and sister play basketball and soccer, with his mother dutifully driving them to practices and games.
“My two little ones have grown up on the soccer field, literally [since] coming home from the hospital,” Sarah said.
They’ll be together as a family on another soccer field Wednesday when the Neals travel to BMO Stadium. Whether Jalen plays or not, it won’t lessen the excitement.
“Just seeing him in warm-ups is enough for me,” Sarah said. “I’ll be there crying.”
However, there is a problem.
“We got tickets, but we didn’t get parking,” he said. “The game, I’m not even nervous about [it]. I’m more nervous about parking.”
Soccer moms. They think of everything.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.