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When 17-year-old Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jalen Neal scored his first professional goal with Galaxy II last year against Reno 1868 FC, the Long Beach native didn’t celebrate.

Instead, Neal calmly trotted to grab the ball and cooly received congratulations from his teammates as he headed back towards the center circle of midfield.

When asked why he didn’t celebrate his first goal, Neal replied that “the game wasn’t over.”

This type of self-aware behavior, which seeks to finish things well and doesn’t seek recognition for doing so, is basically Neal’s essence.

It’s probably the reason he has been quietly helping homelessness outreach programs in Long Beach for the past year to no fanfare.

“He is an amazing humanitarian,” Care Closet Founder Duke Givens shared about Neal. “He’s volunteered many times. He comes out and assists me and he always wears a smile, his compassion shows through. We need more Jalens in the world.” 

Neal and his mother, Sara, have taken part in three events in the past year with Care Closet where they distributed clothes, blankets, toiletries, and other basic necessities. 

According to Givens, he knows Neal is the “real deal” because the first-year Galaxy player was the one who reached out to hook up with the LBC-based non-profit.  

“Being a good person off the field brings much more value into yourself,” Neal observed. “The things on the field wouldn’t mean as much if I weren’t a good person too.” 

For his work in the community, LA Galaxy II named Neal 2020 Humanitarian of the Year.

A longtime friend of the Neal family, Givens described Jalen being brought up in an environment where he was taught the value of giving back at an early age.

Sara Neal tried hard to drive this lesson home with all her children, even when as a single mother providing for a family of four, they didn’t have so much themselves.

“It is always the time to give back,” Sara remembers telling Jalen. “Use your platform to bring awareness and to do good. God gave you a gift and you must share it with as many people as you can.”

Neal is taking it to heart and just like the night he scored his first goal, he is quietly doing what needs to be done. 

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Next week he’ll be collaborating on a food program for the unhoused in Long Beach with food prep service Which Fork and Spoon. 

The program will see Neal and Which Fork and Spoon join up with Closet Care to pass out meals on the 16th and again Neal was the one who reached out to help those less fortunate.

“Him (Jalen) and his mom wanted to do something special for those living in the encampment where they serve so they reached out to me,” Which Fork and Spoon owner Mallack Shabazz noted. “I’m so happy I get to work with them.”

Neal seemingly always goes about his business this way. 

Under Head Coach Greg Vanney’s new cultural mindset of “good guys playing hard for each other,” Neal is precisely the type of player the Galaxy needs on the roster and a reason they didn’t hesitate to sign him to a first-team contract in January despite his age.

“Jalen is a talented defender who has shown his capability at the professional level last season with L.A. Galaxy II,” Galaxy General Manager Dennis te Kloese said of the versatile academy product in a club statement. “We are excited that he will become another player on our first-team roster that has come through our developmental system. We look forward to Jalen continuing to learn and grow with our club.”

Te Kloese’s reference to Neal being “another player” that’s made the jump to the first team from the Galaxy academy shows that the Galaxy’s investment in youth is paying off with many academy graduates like Efrain Alvarez, Cameron Dunbar, Adam Saldaña, Julian Araujo, and Neal himself getting first-team minutes.

Many are also already active in their communities and Neal gives big credit to the Galaxy academy and his almost five years there for the shared trait.

“They not only look after the kids on the field, but they taught the players how to be men off the field,” Jalen remembered. “Also, how to have respect for others and how to be humble.” 

The karmic reward for Neal’s many acts of selflessness should have been a dream debut in front of family and friends in the home opener with the Galaxy winning and the young defender helping the backline to a shutout.

Instead, Neal is working his way back from a stress fracture injury he picked up during the preseason match he started against the New England Revolution and re-aggravated slightly while rehabbing.

He was calm about the setback though and instead focused on the positive of the experiences during preseason.

“It was kind of surreal when I realized I was jogging and warming up alongside (Daniel) Steres,” Neal confessed. “Chicha (Chicharito Hernandez) would actually help me out a bit too. He helped me out during games, at halftime, telling me what he wouldn’t like the center back to do to him, so that helped me out a lot.”

And in typical Neal fashion, he is once again quietly going about his business to come back from injury and has no problem being patient about making his debut for the moment. 

“I want to help the team in any way I can,” Neal stated emphatically.

 

To donate or volunteer with Care Closet click here.

 

To donate or volunteer with Which Fork and Spoon click here.

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