CHARLOTTE — Charlotte FC’s debut match on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium will be a homecoming for one of the team’s stars.
After years of sacrifice, Jaylin Lindsey, 21, is back playing soccer in the Queen City for the first time since he left to pursue a professional career at 14.
Lindsey’s meteoric rise began with Kansas City’s MLS Academy. At just 17, he cracked Sporting Kansas City’s first team.
This offseason, his hometown club acquired him in a trade with Kansas City.
Despite his roots in Charlotte, when Lindsey’s teammates ask him for recommendations on where to live or eat, he is far from an expert.
“I’m like, ‘Dude, I haven’t been here since I was 14,’ and I was still eating like chicken tenders and fries then, so like I have no idea what’s good around here,” Lindsey said.
At just 14, the chicken finger-eating teen left home to chase a professional soccer dream 1,000 miles away.
“I knew that’s what he needed and he was so passionate about it, so it was weird. It was a good transition, it was hard though,” Lindsey’s mom, Jonelle Stitt told Channel 9.
Stitt stayed in Charlotte while Lindsey lived with a host family in Kansas.
The two would go weeks without seeing each other. He’d come home only once a year, at Christmas.
Call it a mother’s intuition, but Stitt knew it was the right thing to do.
“When we made this decision I didn’t hesitate at all,” Stitt said. “I actually drove him across the country. Never visited this place, never visited Kansas and dropped him off with people I’d never met before and I left.”
Stitt, a former star at High Point University, coached Lindsey for several years in youth soccer.
Even before a MLS scout approached her on the sidelines of a youth tournament when her son was just 9 years old, Stitt knew Jaylin was special.
“[The scout] said something about ‘We’d send him to Europe for a little bit,’ just all this things, just wait a minute,” Stitt said. “At that point, I was like, ‘Wow, maybe this could work.’”
Five years later, Stitt faced the hardest decision she would ever make, but she knew it was best for her son’s career. After traveling around the world for weeks at a time with the under-13 national team, Lindsey was more than ready to be on his own.
“That kind of like molded the way I did things and was about my mentality about leaving home and stuff like that, but obviously it was a hard process and you know just being so young, I didn’t know what to do, so I just had good people around me to guide me in the right direction,” Lindsey said.
“People thought I was crazy,” Stitt said. “Some people didn’t tell me until later, after he signed they were like, ‘We really thought you were crazy.’”
As wild as the decision may have seemed seven years ago, it was the right one.
It has brought Lindsey back home, where he and his mom are making up for lost time.
Stitt said she used to joke with her son’s teammates playing club soccer in Charlotte, that if the city just had an MLS team, Lindsey wouldn’t have to leave.
Now, that has become her reality.
“It’s very special,” Stitt said. “I drive to work in the morning and I see the Charlotte skyline, I think, ‘My son is in the same city as me.’”
(WATCH BELOW: ‘It’s the start of a journey’: In debut match, Charlotte FC falls to D.C. United, 3-0)
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