Jaylin Lindsey was a goal-seeking striker. At least initially. The most talented young players typically are.
He was a good one, too —skillful enough to get a call to an invitational soccer camp. But once he arrived there, Lindsey quickly picked up on something.
“Everyone played forward. I mean everyone,” he said. “There was literally no one who wanted to play defender. So I thought I’d give it a try.”
A budding youth career followed.
Lindsey, now 17, signed with Sporting Kansas City on Thursday, two years after he joined the team’s academy program.
On Friday, after an introductory news conference with Sporting KC, he traced the most significant moment of his early career back to that switch to defender, a happenstance move prompted by necessity. A coach at the camp announced that two players would receive an invite to a United States youth national team tryout. Lindsey hadn’t expected to be included after playing out of position.
He made it. And he stuck with the youth national teams. On Monday, he returns to the U.S. Under-17 team as it puts in final preparations for the World Cup in India.
“It’s a funny how it happened, but I’ve been a defender ever since,” he said. “I always say that defense is the most important part of the game because if you don’t let any goals in, it’s a tie or a win. That’s why I like it.”
Lindsey, a high school senior who is completing his degree with online courses, is the second teenager in three weeks to join the Sporting KC roster, following 15-year-old Gianluca Busio last month. His homegrown contract will take effect on Jan. 1 and span through 2021 with a club option for 2022.
By the time he returns from the U-17 World Cup next month, Sporting KC will be finishing the regular season. So will its B team, the Swope Park Rangers. That will likely place Lindsey back into the academy to finish 2017.
But Sporting KC envisions him joining the first team for preseason next January.
“Frankly, he’s too good for our academy now,” Sporting KC Academy director Jon Parry said, before describing the strengths of Lindsey’s game. “He’s a leader on the field. He’s technically sound. He has a very good soccer IQ. Physically, he’s an absolute beast.”
Lindsey has played central defender and outside back during his time in the academy. For now, his future is likely as a right back. The aforementioned physical aspect is valued there, especially in a Sporting KC system that requires its outside defenders to push forward and make an impact on the offensive end.
Lindsey has trained with Sporting KC on multiple occasions this season, including scrimmages with the team earlier this month.
“When he comes to the first team and trains with us, there’s this look in his eyes that he has no fear,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said.
He looks like he belongs, Vermes added. So, when will he officially belong? Vermes was vague on that answer, and understandably so. Lindsey will need time to develop.
Take it from him ...
“Just to say I’m a pro doesn’t mean I’m there yet,” Lindsey said. “I’m going to keep pushing forward and just try to be a pro everywhere I go — the way I eat, the way I sleep, the way I (act) on the field. I’m just going to keep the same mentality.”
The response was greeted with a pat on the back from Vermes.
“Great answer,” he quipped.