The Los Angeles Galaxy soccer club signed a first-team contract Wednesday with Jalen Neal, a 17-year-old defender from Lakewood.

“It’s a great feeling,” Neal said. “It’s kind of hard to get used to. Just a year ago I was committed to (UC Irvine). I just need to get my head around this still—getting to play with all the professionals.”

Though Neal represents Lakewood through and through, he was born in Long Beach and so was his love for soccer. His passion for the sport started at age 3, when he played for FC Long Beach and the Long Beach Youth Soccer Organization. He moved to Lakewood and went to Mayfair High School.

Neal is a product of the Galaxy’s development academy where he’s made 13 appearances for the team’s secondary team Los Dos.

As a center back defender, Neal will go toe-to-toe with some of the more physical and older forwards in the MLS, but this doesn’t worry his mother, Sarah Neal.

“I am extremely proud of Jalen—this makes all of the practices and weekend tournaments worth it,” she said. “He’s an amazing defender I don’t worry about him at all.”

Neal’s hardworking nature goes beyond the soccer pitch. He’s spent much of his free time volunteering for a Long Beach-based nonprofit called Care Closet LBC, which specializes in assisting homeless individuals.

LA Galaxy has recently seen an influx of new talent ranging all the way up to a new head coach, Greg Vanney.

Neal joins a Galaxy that fell short of expectations last season finishing in 12 place in the Western conference. Neal is confident the team can turn things around this season.

“It’s too early for people to turn their heads on us,” Neal said.

Neal’s agent could not comment on the details of his contract.