BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
LIVONIA, Mich. — It’s not easy for a 14-year-old freshman in high school to pack up his bags and relocate, but for Noah Jackson he hopes those recent very tough decisions will pay dividends down the road.
Jackson, who grew up in western Redford Township where his parents still reside and attended school in the Livonia Clarenceville school district through the eighth grade, is now a freshman at Mariemont (Ohio) High School. He lives with a host family and attends the traditional high school setting while training, traveling and playing on weekends for the FC Cincinnati U-15 MLS Next Academy.
“It wasn’t easy and it took some time (to adjust),” said Jackson, who left the nest in late-August to begin his Academy-path away from the comforts of home. “But I got used to it pretty quick and I feel like I have fit in and adjusted well.”
Playing out of state was always in the back of Jackson’s mind and when the opportunity presented itself, he jumped at the chance.
“They spotted me at a few games and some videos (my family sent in),” noted the 5-foot-7, 120-pound Jackson on his path south to Cincinnati, which began last summer. “I was really excited to go and play for FC Cincinnati.”
Like most small kids, Jackson began sampling various sports as a young child but quickly grew a love and passion for the beautiful game and realized in elementary school that soccer was likely his bread and butter in terms of success in sports. Jackson started playing soccer when he was four and he spent several years in the club system with the Novi-based Michigan Jaguars before being spotted by FC Cincinnati’s coaches last spring and summer at some club events.
“I used to watch my brother play so I wanted to try something new,” recalled Jackson. “I tried basketball for a couple of years. But I really loved soccer. That is where my focus has been ever since.”
Now a part of the Academy program at FC Cincinnati, climbing the ranks is in the forefront of Jackson’s mind.
“Ever since I was little I always wanted to do something big with soccer,” said Jackson. “I just have to put in the hard work. Some of that (work ethic) comes from my parents that they (instilled) in me. And you have to work hard to play for FC Cincinnati.”
At various events last spring and summer, Joshua Neff and various other members of FC Cincinnati’s coaching staff kept their eye out for players they feel could be the right fit for their program. They found a prospect with the right attitude, work rate, skillset and speed in Noah Jackson.
“He has a great attitude,” said Neff, the FC Cincinnati U-15 MLS Next Academy Head Coach and Performance Specialist. “He’s part of the leadership program we have and was selected by his teammates. He’s one of five players we have in that age group that is part of that ;leadership program. It’s his first year here, so that shows you a lot I think of what type of young man he is. He was voted into it. We didn’t just choose him, but the other players nominated him to be a part of that – in his first year with us in our club.
“From the effort standpoint the type of effort he gives has never been in question,” continued Neff. “He’s coming along fitting in. His possession (skills) and his attacking style from the back are coming along as well. It was a little slow at first, but he’s made a lot of improvements over (six) months.”
In a recent game against the Michigan Wolves played at Schoolcraft College – less than 10 miles from his parents’ home – Jackson was quite active in a 2-1 victory, even making a key block on a shot in the 80th minute with his team up 2-0. He pushed up on overlaps into the midfield several times to aid the attack and was quick to retreat to his natural position on the back line.
“He’s quick, very quick. His reaction is quick the way he can cover ground over distance,” said Neff. “Obviously as a MLS club we like his quickness and we project him as an outside back or left back one day if he plays professionally. He can play center back, too, right now because he has the right mentality to defend. But he’s fast – he’s definitely fast and that is one of the many things we really like about him.”
Jackson’s strength is his speed and athleticism, as he can accelerate with track and field-type speed and close gaps in a hurry to hound opposing forwards and cut off through passes. He’s aggressive, sees the pitch well and has great anticipation skills – all ingredients for a quality marking/outside back. Jackson’s versatility is also a key attribute, as in the case during the win over the Wolves where he was switched from right back to left back during warmups because an injury to a another starter.
“We like his versatility,” added Neff. “Just before this game (against the Wolves) we had another player inform us of an injury at the last minute, so we moved some guys around and pushed Noah over to the left side and he did a great job.”
Neff added that the organization has been pleased with Jackson’s playing ability and development so far and has big plans for him in the future as long as he continues to grow as a player and person and put in the work and high-level effort.
“He has a bit to go on the maturing part and growth part (height), but that will come over time,” noted Neff. “His mom’s a little bit tall, but his dad not so much., So we don’t know how tall he’ll be in a couple of years. But he’ll fill out a bit more (during his high school years) and he’ll be a different player probably in a year or two.”
Like any other rising star through the U.S. soccer system, Jackson would love to play in college one day and definitely reach the MLS professional level down the road.
“They do like my speed and they do like that I really know how to defend,” said Jackson, who has contributed a goal and a couple of assists this season despite playing mainly at the outside back positions.
“I really like it here, he continued. “It was a slow start but as a team we’re really starting to come together and I feel like my game has improved since I came here last summer.”
Looking at the big picture, Jackson is planning to stick in the Academy system and grow all while being patient. Tomorrow’s stars don’t develop overnight.
Still, the dreams of making it big is definitely in the middle of Jackson’s big dreams.
“I would definitely love to reach the first team (professionally) one day,” smiled Jackson. “Definitely.”
He’s well on his way.
(Have a soccer player in Michigan or with Michigan ties and should be considered for a player profile, email Editor Dan Stickradt at firstname.lastname@example.org or Broadcast Director Jonathan Turner at email@example.com.)