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PRO SOCCER: WMU grad Jaylen Shannon keeps turning doubters into believers



BY DAN STICKRADT

Communications Specialist | Web And Content Editor | Director of News |

Social Media Director | Interns and Freelance Coordinator

PH: (248) 884-1051

TW: @LocalSportsFans @MiSoccerNetwork


CHICAGO, Ill. – Don’t ever tell Jaylen Shannon that he can’t do it.


The former soccer star from Michigan will make doubters into believers. He’s been doing it his whole life.


Shannon, a recent graduate of Western Michigan University and a 2018 grad of St. Joseph High School in southwestern Michigan, has no problems with proving others wrong.


“I just try to work as hard as I can to take the next step,” said the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Shannon defensemen who has generally played either an outside back or center back position for the last several years. “I just want to win and do whatever it takes to help my team win. If that means that I have to take the extra step and accomplish something others don’t think I can – than that’s what I try to do.”


Shannon grew up playing club ball in the Kalamazoo Kingdom club system, playing on some high-level travel teams throughout the year. He starred at St. Joseph as a two-sport athlete competing in soccer and basketball. He was known as just a great athlete coming out of high school and was not some five-star recruit with dozens of college offers. He was somewhat under the radar in terms of a national recruiting circuit. He did not play in the MLS Next (formerly U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy) system during middle school or high school.


Even being an NCAA Division I recruit and signing at Western Michigan our of high school – he spent all five of his collegiate seasons with the Bronchos – he didn’t gain many high accolades during his prep days.


Although he earned all-conference in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference several times, along with being named All-District three times in high school – he only garnered Division 2 All-State Honorable Mention as a junior and senior despite being an future NCAA Division I level player.


Simply put – high school awards are usually reserved with for those with stats. That’s why St. Joseph coach John Brown said that his former star was completely underrated at the state level.


“He was completely underrated. I tried to push for him to be much higher on those All-State lists, but I could only get him honorable mention,” recalled Brown, who has coached multiple All-State players in the last decade, including Shannon and his younger brother Christian Shannon, who is also on the roster at Western Michigan. “He didn’t put up gaudy numbers in high school. He plays on the back line. Sure, he scored an occasional goal or had an assist, sometimes off restarts. But he was not scoring 20-30 goals a year. He was great in the air and could shut people down with his athleticism and speed. Other players had a hard time beating him 1-v-1.


“I’m not surprised he’s done so well at Western Michigan,” added Brown. “I knew all along he was a special player and a great athlete.”


One of the better soccer players to hail from the western side of Michigan in recent years, Shannon keeps climbing the ladder of success.


Chicago Fire FC announced in January that the club signed Shannon to an MLS Next Pro contract through the 2024 season. Shannon is still a few steps away from making an MLS club.


“It’s been my goal of playing soccer professionally for a long time now,” admitted Shannon, who spent parts of January and February training with the Fire organization at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. His first MLS Next Pro season begins in March and extends through October.


“I do hope to make it to the MLS one day. But I still have to take it one step at a time,” added Shannon.


The Chicago Fire did not disclose financial details to the contract for Shannon, who is one of five WMU players to either sign a professional contract or be drafted in the MLS Super Draft during the past few months. Shannon was undrafted but was quickly scooped up by the Fire organization and will be closely evaluated along with several other rising players in the organization.“It is exciting to welcome Jaylen to Chicago Fire FC II,” said Chicago Fire FC II General Manager Alex Boler in a press release. “Jaylen is a versatile defender that provides depth on our backline. Since his time at Western Michigan, he’s proven that his defensive prowess is very strong, and we're excited to welcome him into our Club.”The standout defender had quite an encore campaign in 2023 at Western Michigan, where he tallied a career-high three assists in 23 appearances and 23 starts for the Broncos. Additionally, Shannon received United Soccer Coaches All-American Second Team honors after being a key contributor in the Broncos’ second consecutive NCAA Division I Sweet 16 appearance in 2023.


The defensive stalwart was also named the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2023 and was also All-MVC First Team and All-Tournament Team during the recent ‘23 collegiate season. It was the Broncos’ first season in the MVC for men’s soccer only after the school’s soccer team previously competed in the Mid-American Conference for decades.


This past fall, Shannon and the Broncos’ sterling defense allowed only 16 total goals over 22 games during the campaign that included a 17-2-3 record and a paltry 0.73 goal-against-average. That team G.A.A. was the seventh-best goals-against average in the entire nation for NCAA Division I schools, which reached 209 varsity programs out of 363 total Division I schools in 2023.


With Shannon a mainstay in the starting lineup, WMU captured the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and postseason tournament titles this season and finished 2-1 in the 2024 NCAA Division I College Cup national tournament, eventually losing to eventual national runner-up Notre Dame 1-0 in a shootout (4-1 on penalty kicks) in the round of 16.


In 2022, Western Michigan lost to University of Portland (1-0) in the Sweet 16 as part of the College Cup national tournament. Shannon was named to the Mid-American Conference All-Tournament, the All-MAC Second Team, All-MAC Academic and United Soccer Coaches All-Region Third Team following the ’22 campaign.


“We had a great run at WMU. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” offered Shannon. “Sure, we would have loved to advance further this past season, but we still had a great year and that is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

After graduating from high school in 2018, Shannon took a redshirt in the fall of 2018 before embarking on his successful college career with the Broncos. He appeared in all 19 matches with 10 starts in 2019 and was named All-MAC Academic and All-MAC All-Tournament in 2019. Shannon started all 10 games during the 2020 Covid-shortened season (actually played in the spring of 2021) and again earned All-MAC Academic status. He played and started in five games during the fall 2021 campaign before suffering a season-ending injury.


Shannon entered his first professional training camp after concluding his career at WMU with 76 games played, 68 starts, three goals, one game-winning goal, seven assists and 13 total points for the Broncos, who were 4-2 in NCAA tournament games the past two seasons.“We are very excited to welcome Jaylen to the Fire,” said Chicago Fire FC II head coach Ludovic Taillandier. “He is a player with a great mentality, and his skill set works well with what we are trying to build within our club. He will be a great addition to our roster.”

During college, Shannon played a couple of seasons with the USL League Two Flint City Bucks and helped them reach the North American semifinals during the summer months of 2022 and 2023.

“That was another great experience,” said Shannon. “Even there I got a chance to play with some great players and we were able to make a run.”

Sound familiar?

While in high school, Shannon starred for the Kalamazoo Kingdom club team and for St. Joseph, a Class B/Division 2-sized high school. He helped the Kalamazoo Kingdom win a Michigan State Youth Soccer Association state cup title in 2017 and to a national tournament berth that same year. He also anchored a back line for the Kingdom side that captured Super Y League national titles in both 2016 and 2017.

While starring for St. Joseph High School, Shannon was a four-year starter for the Bears, again earning All-State honors in both the fall of 2016 and 2017 along with being tabbed as All-Area, All-League, All-District and All-Region multiple times.

Now it is all serious business for Shannon. Although he boasts some gifted athletic ability, speed on the pitch and his defensive prowess, Shannon admits there is much to his game that he needs to improve and work on, such as his first- and second-touch and strengthening his passing abilities.

The higher the level, the quicker the pace.

“I’ve always listened to what my coaches have said to me, in high school or at Western (Michigan). Coach Chad Wiseman, I’ve been around him for a long time and he’s really helped me develop into the player I am today,” noted Shannon. “And I’ve played with some really good players over the years. Western (Michigan) has several grads playing (different levels) of pro soccer right now.”


And as a defender without many ‘stats’, Jaylen Shannon keeps putting in the work to succeed.


“I’ll just keep working hard and see where it leads me,” added Shannon.

So far, his pathway keeps trending upward.




(Have a story suggestion for the Premier Media Group and the Michigan Soccer Network regarding club soccer, high school varsity, amateur soccer, collegiate soccer or professional soccer of teams or players with Michigan ties, contact Communications Specialist/Web and Content Editor/Director of News Dan Stickradt via email at stickradt@michigansoccernetwork.com, or call 248-884-1051. Dan Stickradt is a 31-year veteran of the Michigan Media circles and recently joined the staff full time in March of 2024. Want to schedule a broadcast game or live show, contact PMG/MSN Director of Broadcasting Jonathan Turner for availability and pricing at jonathan@michigansoccernetwork.com.) 








 

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