CARSON, Calif. – Calum McBean remembers taking his son Jack to the British & Dominion Social Club in Garden Grove to watch Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Leeds United when he was just a boy.
Back then, the native from Scotland was simply looking to impart a bit of soccer knowledge on his son, who was hungry for what his dad would say was a “wee bit” more information about the sport that his father played back in the old country.
Now the proud papa is able to sit in his seat at StubHub Center and watch his son battle for a place on the two-time defending champion LA Galaxy alongside some of the very same players that they’d watch through satellite television.
Through the years, he’s seen him grow from a child, who’d watch English Premier League to a lanky 14-year-old who dominated his age group with Slammers FC and then the Galaxy Academy to an able-bodied 18-year-old, who is maturing into a contributor for the Galaxy as they chase their third straight title.
At every step of Jack’s maturation, his family has been there, not at the forefront, but offering him the necessary encouragement and support necessary to aid in his development. After all, even as he grew into his body at the age of 15, Calum and the rest of the family (mother Lisa and sister Abi) were still supportive of Jack as he balanced soccer and basketball. But once the decision was made—by Jack—to play soccer full time, his father knew that his son could make it.
“In eighth grade, he was about six-feet and about 175 [pounds] and he grew into his body and that’s when I thought he could be a player if he wanted it,” Calum said, who calls son the “wee man”. “I always just tell him, ‘don’t play for me, if you play for me give it up, play for yourself, play for the love of the game.’ He took that to heart.
Calum and 10-year-old Jack.
(Photo courtesy of the McBean family)
“My role was to encourage him, and it was always to encourage him and it was never anything negative. I just wanted to make sure that he put the effort into every game,” he added. “The only time that I would get upset was when he wouldn’t play his best which was very seldom so as long as he put the effort in.”
And McBean has clearly put in the necessary effort to become a blossoming young talent.
In his first game as a professional, McBean became the youngest player to score a goal (16-years and 312 days) in club history when he found the back of the net in LA’s 3-1 defeat to the Houston Dynamo in Oct. 2011. Since that day, the appearances have steadily increased as he was a regular during the club’s 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League campaign and has made 12 appearances during the 2013 regular season.
Along the way he’s scored a total of six goals in all competitions and remained in contention for a regular place on LA’s game day squads while also completing an impressive recovery from a fractured left clavicle back in April.
That transformation from the lanky teen that needed multiple touches to tap the ball into the back of the net against Houston to a player that was so dominant early on in LA’s Champions League match away to Isidro Metapán last October —a game in which he scored twice—that the head coach of the Salvadorian club needed to make a substitution just 21 minutes in, has been a steady one.
“I feel like at my age right now and with the guys that are ahead of me, Robbie, Landon, it’s good that I’ve been on the bench every game I’ve been healthy this year," said McBean. “There’s always room for improvement and I think I am improving day-by-day. Nothing super drastic will happen like that but I know if I am patient and watch those guys play and just be ready when my number is called then I’ll be alright.”
However, back in December 2010, dreams of McBean playing in the professional ranks were just that—dreams. The then-high school freshman at Corona Del Mar had joined the Galaxy Academy months earlier and had attracted the interest of colleges like UCLA. While at a tournament in Arizona, just days before McBean’s 16th birthday, newly appointed Galaxy Academy Director Chris Klein approached the McBean’s with an offer.
Calum admits that he thought it was simply to give him advice about the packs of colleges that were knocking on the families’ door, but it turned out to be something much different.
“The decision was at 15: Do you do the college route or would you want to be a pro and play for the Galaxy and train with the big boys?” said Calum. “They talked about everything that night but the funny thing was how Jack responded.
“I said to Jack ‘what do you want to do?’ and he goes ‘oh yeah, I definitely want to do this’ and I asked him ‘what do you want to do with the money?’ and he goes ‘the first thing I want to do is get a new iPhone.’”
Maintaining a sense of normalcy for that teenager who wanted a new iPhone with the cash from his new contract was one of the top priorities for the Galaxy once McBean signed on the dotted line. Eager to avoid a situation like what occurred with Freddy Adu where pressure to succeed was piled on the teenage phenom, LA adopted a different mentality—let the kid be a kid.
Jack with Calum and his sister Abi.
(Photo courtesy of the McBean family)
For the first two seasons of his Galaxy career, McBean split time between the Galaxy Academy and the first team, training with both. With LA’s veteran core of forwards like Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Chad Barrett and Edson Buddle, McBean rarely traveled with the squad as he earned minutes in reserve matches and training alongside the likes of Jose Villarreal and Oscar Sorto with the Academy squad while also representing the U.S. at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2011, his first season with the Galaxy.
Once training was done, he was able to let loose and do what teenagers do: Have fun.
“I felt like I’d be off on weekends when the team was traveling. I just did stuff with my high school friends and felt normal with them because I saw them almost every day,” said McBean. “I’d get home from training at 1:30 and then I’d have the rest of the day to relax and just hang out and luckily I have a great group of friends back home that are always looking to do something so that’s fun.”
That Jack was able to “have fun” and successfully compartmentalize the rigors of professional soccer and being a teenager was something that Calum believes was key to his maturation process.
“He’s been lucky, he’s had all his friends, he did all his high school stuff, he graduated, he went to his parties, he hangs out with his buddies,” said Calum. “He can transform from a pro playing against Real Madrid with 40,000 watching it to going straight to his buddies’ parties and being a high school guy again within the next hour. It’s pretty amazing actually.”
Like any teenager, McBean is looking to leave the nest and will do so in early September when he moves into a Manhattan Beach pad with 37-year-old teammate Pablo Mastroeni. The combination of the 18-year-old and Mastroeni, a husband and father of two, may be unexpected, but after the veteran learned that his family was unable to move from Colorado to Southern California this season, a roommate was needed.
Enter the teenager, who was itching to spread his wings away from home.
The pair may be a regular odd couple, but Mastroeni is excited to have a chance to mentor the young forward and maybe teach him a few cooking tips like his own brand of oatmeal—quinoa, six types of seeds and four types of berries –which the veteran calls “the most powerful breakfast.”
“The dynamics are interesting. He’s half my age and at the start of his career while I’m at the end of mine. I think from my perspective, he’s a good kid who is hungry to learn the game,” said Mastroeni. “He’s ready to take the leap and for me, I can be a mentor and if nothing else, teach him how to prepare foods and the nutritional aspect of the game.”
As for the steady growth that has epitomized McBean’s career to date, Mastroeni has already taken notice in his two-and-a-half months. After all, Mastroeni has seen plenty of players throughout his career who were unable to live up to the hype and pressure thrown at them at an early age.
“He acts his age, but he has a sense of maturity about him and for these kids to grow at their own pace is important,” he added. “I think that these young guys, especially Jack, are becoming some fine young players with a bright future as the league continues to grow. He’s coming into his own at the right time.”
And once he reaches that level or obtains an extra “10 percent” as Associate Head Coach Dave Sarachan stated, Calum feels like the sky is the limit for his son.
“I can see him growing up in front of my own eyes. He takes care of himself, he’s getting plenty of rest, he’s eating well and he knows that he has to work hard to get a chance,” said the elder McBean. “To play in MLS, you have to be fit and strong and he’s played against some big boys and he won’t back down to any of them no matter how big. He’s as big as any of them.”
But just don’t expect Jack to lose that extra spark that has served him well through the early stages of his career and sparked him to watch those games at the British Dominion & Social Club with father.
“I’d say with the Galaxy for sure [I’m an adult] but when I go back home I like to be a little immature too with some of my friends. There’s nothing wrong with still acting like a kid I don’t think, especially at my age,” said McBean. “But yeah, when I eventually move out I think that will kind of take [care of] itself and I’ll become an adult that way.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com