CARSON, Calif. – Jack McBean scored in his Major League Soccer debut at the end of 2011, tallied three times last year in CONCACAF Champions League play and scored a team-best five goals in MLS Reserve League action last season.
Now the 18-year-old forward is really starting to contribute.
McBean has played in nine of 10 LA Galaxy first-team games so far this season, with goals in the CONCACAF Champions League triumph over Herediano and the SuperClasico draw with Chivas USA, and has made four successive league starts up top, building from LA's early-season injury troubles an assignment that figures to grow more important ahead.
The target striker, who signed a Homegrown contract two years ago as a high school sophomore, has grown into a muscular 6-foot, 180-pound frame, gained understanding from some big-name mentors, and seen his confidence soar as his coaches trust him with greater responsibility.
“This year's a lot different,” McBean said. “I've been in the 18 every game this year and played in most of them. [I've gained] mostly just confidence in myself and confidence the guys have in me. I feel when I go in, I can actually create chances and score goals.”
He had a chance to score or create two of them in LA's victory last weekend over Sporting Kansas City, sprinting into KC's box on counterattacks but failing with his final touch. Just growing pains, really.
“It's not as easy as it looks in the stands,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “You see Robbie [Keane] had a couple of those situations [against Sporting] as well. It's a good experience for him, but he certainly has to get the ball off his feet, be a little more decisive in going to goal and being a little bit more aggressive ... He'll get there.”
McBean knows he has tremendous room to grow. With Keane and Landon Donovan, especially, he has some expert advisers.
“Landon's really helped me out, telling me movements to make and where I should have gone on specific plays,” McBean said. “And more recently when I've been playing, Robbie's real vocal on the field and in training, too. He's been a big help. Mike [Magee], too. They are really smart soccer players. I take in what I can from those guys.”
Donovan's late arrival, fellow teen Jose Villarreal's U-20 assignment and a few injuries provided the opportunity in preseason and at the start of the campaign to see playing time. It's helped immensely.
“He's become a capable target forward for us,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan told MLSsoccer.com. "He's by no means a finished product, but he's gotten himself moved up the ladder enough where we can count on him more so to hold balls up and battle and make it hard for defenders.
“I think he's minimized the moments of indecision. He's minimized the moments of hit-and-miss with his touch. Everything's getting cleaned up, and that comes with confidence, comes with experience. We see him relaxing more, comfortable more, the nerves are gone, and if he makes a mistake, he doesn't dwell on it. He gets on with it.”
The next step: the next steps.
“[Games are] where the learning takes place,” Sarachan said. “If his starting point next game is at the level where he left off [against Sporting], and then the next game it's a little bit higher, and it continues to grow, then we're seeing the right kind of progress.”