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LA Galaxy 2022 Player Postmortem: Jalen Neal

Youngster still looking for true breakthrough with first team.

Soccer: Leagues Cup Showcase-Chivas Guadalajara at LA Galaxy Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Neal returned for his second season as an LA Galaxy first-team player in 2022 looking to continue to grow and to get a real chance at MLS level. On the former, he did, and on the latter, it’s still a work in progress.

The homegrown defender started the season as an 18-year-old who had played the previous season entirely at USL Championship level for LA Galaxy II, and even so, Greg Vanney had spoken highly of the youngster and had given him plenty of action in the 2021 preseason. What would 2022 have in store?

Well, Neal did make his first team competitive debut this season, but it was a brief stint, as he came off the bench in the Galaxy’s U.S. Open Cup win over NISA’s Cal United Strikers in May for a short runout. It was a milestone in the player’s career, but it wasn’t much of a sample size to pick through.

Here are Neal’s competitive statistics with the Galaxy first team in 2022:

Jalen Neal LA Galaxy 2022 Statistics

2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
U.S. Open Cup 1 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0
Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 1 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0

The other highlight for Neal at the first team level came in the Leagues Cup friendly against Chivas, when he went 45 minutes in a 2-0 win for the G’z, and certainly looked solid in that atmosphere.

Otherwise, this year was marked by playing time away from the first team. Neal was a fixture for Galaxy II in league play this year, hitting season highs in games played (21, with 20 starts) as he got regular run at center back. He was named Galaxy II Defender of the Year and Los Dos Humanitarian of the Year. Not bad, and that regular playing time should hopefully help his development moving forward.

In addition, Neal was a fixture for the United States at the Concacaf U-20 Championship, and not only helped the U.S. win the tournament and book their ticket to the 2023 U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Paris Olympics, but he was also named to the Best XI of the tournament, one of just four American players to get that honor.

I think Neal has a lot of potential and could be a player sought abroad, potentially. Frankly, he may find the path to playing time possibly easier elsewhere, unless he convinces Vanney that Neal can supplant the imported center backs the team keeps signing. It can be tough to start a teenager at center back, even in MLS, but Vanney has shown a willingness to go against the grain with his defensive strategies for playing time while with Toronto FC. That hasn’t really been a thing in LA, however, but it does seem like the team brass still think highly of him.

At the same time, if Neal were to get parked at Galaxy II next year, when they go to MLS Next Pro, which I expect will be a less competitive league than the USL Championship, then I don’t think that will help his development. I think the Galaxy could hope he impresses at the U-20 World Cup, they get a transfer bid for him and sell him on, and that would be an outcome everyone would probably be happy with. But short of that, I hope there is a path to playing time for him with the first team, or else he’ll hit a wall, and pretty quickly. LA’s done well with the likes of Julian Araujo and Efrain Alvarez, but they need to continue the path, lest those two end up being one-offs in one of the most talented academies in the country.

So we’ll see what the future holds for Jalen Neal, but it sure looks like there’s plenty of soccer left to be played in his career. Whether he gets the chance — and makes the step up — for the Galaxy next year remains to be seen.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.