By Tyler Trent
Jack Neeley fends of Jonathan Bolanos to keep possession (Photo courtesy of Jake Sokol)
Charlotte FC announced their third homegrown signing, Jack Neeley, in March. Unlike the two attacking players before him, Neeley is a defender. I had the chance to chat with Neeley about his career so far, his move to Charlotte, how he got into the sport, and more.
Neeley's Journey to Charlotte FC
Neeley grew up in Florida. When I asked how he got into playing soccer, Neeley said, “It was the only sport I’ve ever played. I just kind of kicked balls around the house when I was little. Then, as soon as I was old enough to play, my parents let me join the lowest level of rec that I could play.”
Neeley continued soccer from there on until he eventually found himself in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2012. Neeley joined Charlotte Soccer Academy where he improved his game until becoming a member of the inaugural Charlotte FC Academy class in 2020. Neeley considers that move to the Academy as the most exciting point of his career so far.
“I had been playing at the club level and it kind of felt like things were starting to level off. I didn't feel like I was improving a whole lot. Then being able to come to the academy, I was playing with guys who were better than me. It was more competition and that was really exciting for me and my family. Especially cause they knew that if I surround myself with other great players then I only have one choice: get better or get out.”
Now, in 2023, it’s clear that Neeley got better as he had the opportunity to be a part of the Charlotte FC first team’s preseason training. Neeley was able to get a lot of game minutes during preseason including matches against incredible strikers like Christian Benteke and Chicharito. Soon after, he was announced as the club’s third homegrown signing. Now, Neeley is a member of Crown Legacy FC playing in MLS NEXT Pro where he was selected for the starting eleven in both matches.
Strength, Inspiration, and Goals
After a quick rise in the ranks of Charlotte FC, I asked Neeley what he considered his biggest strength as a center back. Neely shared, “I think my calmness on the ball is probably my bigger strength. Not being frantic with the ball.” Of course, making his professional debut this year, Neeley admitted he was a little excited for the first 15 minutes in their match against Huntsville City FC before he calmed down and grew into the match.
After that match, Neeley was asked if there were any players he looked up to. He specifically mentioned Charlotte FC defender Adilson Malanda. Neeley also shared he watches the senior team players and learns from them and puts that to use while he trains with the first team players like Malanda.
Outside of Charlotte FC, Neeley mentioned he watches Virgil van Dijk from Liverpool. “He's very smooth. He just never seems frantic or out of position, he's always just cruising into the right spots,” Neeley said. Neeley shared he was a massive Liverpool supporter and while he watches a lot of Premier League games, Liverpool is the only team he supports.
He also mentioned Kalidou Koulibaly, specifically in his time at Napoli. Neeley mentioned he likes that Koulibaly plays a style opposite to van Dijk. “He’s the other side of a center back where you have to have a little bit of bite. Koulibaly would go and blow things up.”
Having participated in Charlotte FC’s preseason, signed as a homegrown player, and made his first professional debut with Crown Legacy FC, I asked Neeley if he had set any other goals for this season. “One of my biggest goals that I've set is that I want to be a key piece and starter for the second team. I don't think I would get a chance with the first team if I'm not proving myself with the second team. So being a consistent starter and being needed by the team in that position is a huge goal for me."
Neeley commented on going to Europe, but assured he didn't want to rush anything. “I don't want to be like too eager and go to Europe, but one of my bigger goals is just more realistic for me is being a starter with the first team maybe in three or four years," said Neeley.
Our talks of future goals ended with Neeley reaffirming his love for Charlotte and his desire to stay here and grow. “Being able to extend my contract with the club because I love it here. Charlotte's where I grew up, so I don't want to get out as soon as possible.”
While it seems like Neeley wants to take it slow in his career, he did mention he has hopes to play against the Chicago Fire’s Xherdan Shaqiri in MLS in the future. Because Shaqiri, like Benteke, is another former Liverpool player. Neeley also mentioned Lorenzo Insigne as another player he would like to defend against in MLS.
With his rise through the system, I asked Neeley if he had any words of encouragement or advice for players coming up through the ranks at Charlotte Soccer Academy or the Charlotte FC academy. “I’d say to work on things every single day, even if it's just five minutes. That's something that you are going to gain over somebody else. If it adds up over a week, that's 25 minutes of work that you've put in over somebody else,” Neeley said.
Outside of Soccer
Outside of the soccer world, Neeley shared that his favorite hobby was fishing which he got into right before COVID-19 hit in 2020. “I kind of use it as free time cause it’s really easy to get off the phone, go out and just be in the nature and to think about things. I really enjoy fishing.” Neeley also mentioned he loves going hiking with his family as well.
After discovering his love of fishing, I told him he would have to hit up Ben Bender, but Neeley said he was way ahead on that. “We talk a lot about fishing and stuff like that all the time.”
At the moment, Jack Neeley is proving himself as a calm, collected, and talented defender for Crown Legacy FC. You can catch him and the rest of the team at the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in Matthews for their home games. Soon, we may get to see Neeley make the jump once again, this time into the Charlotte FC first team and getting MLS minutes as a homegrown player.