Galaxy defender Jalen Neal first learned he was on the preliminary roster for the January U.S. Men’s National team camp about two weeks ago.
And then Wednesday, the official word came.
“A lot of emotions and a lot of excitement,” he said.
Neal, 19, was one of the 24 players called into training camp as the U.S. kicks off 2023 and the new World Cup cycle.
The U.S. will face Serbia on Wednesday at BMO Stadium, formerly Banc of California Stadium, and Colombia on Saturday at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“The first one (emotion) was kind of being surprised,” he said. “Not that I got it (the call), but I didn’t know it would come this early in my career, without any first-team appearances (with the Galaxy).
“Getting the call-up to the U.S. Men’s National team is a huge deal and I’m definitely excited about it.”
Neal is one of three players on the roster that led the U.S. U-20 team to the CONCACAF championship in July. That team qualified the U.S. for the U-20 World Cup, from May 20 to June 11, and the 2024 Summer Olympics.
With the camp and friendlies falling outside of a FIFA international window, the U.S. called up a predominantly MLS-based roster.
Neal has already kicked off preseason training with the Galaxy.
“For us, Jalen is a guy that we see that is transitioning into the first-team picture,” Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said. “He’s looked great in preseason, he just has a really calm, cool demeanor about what he does. He’s never really frazzled and give us nice quality with and without the ball.
“The next step for him is exposure. Having to live those moments against top players and work with his teammates.”
The Lakewood native joined the Galaxy Academy as a sophomore in high school and was signed to a first-team contract in 2021. He has spent the last three seasons with Galaxy II.
“Once I joined the Academy here, I knew I wanted to pursue it (soccer) professionally,” the 6-foot-3 Neal said. “Right before I joined, I was thinking about quitting soccer and playing basketball. That’s when I was 13 years old.
“I was always a fan and I always wanted to play professionally, but when it got to my sophomore year, that’s when I knew I that I could play professionally.”
As for that basketball career …
“My height says point guard, but my ability say all five positions,” he said.
This is the year, Neal believes, he makes his way into the Galaxy first team.
“I think these last few years with the second team have been really building my confidence, I’ve gotten to grow physically, mentally, vocally too and I think my leadership on the field has improved a lot,” he said. “I think I’m ready to take that step to the next level, for sure.”
Neal isn’t the Galaxy’s only young defender leaving camp for national team duty.
Markus Ferkranus, a 19-year-old Santa Clarita native who paired with Neal on the U.S. U-20s and on Galaxy II, was called into a U-20 team camp that got underway Thursday in Florida.
Both Neal and Ferkranus spent time last year training at Lyon in France.
“We’re excited about both of them,” Vanney said. “For Markus, last year he didn’t get a ton of games and this will be a good opportunity for him to exposed to that level.”