In music, soccer or life, Loons teenager is well beyond his years

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He can play four attacking positions on the pitch and speaks as many languages off or on it.

When it comes to musical instruments, Minnesota United newcomer Aziel Jackson knows only three.

That’s OK. There’s still time.

At age 19, Jackson hasn’t yet made his MLS debut. But the son of a noted traveling jazz musician already is culturally and athletically beyond his years, enough that Loons coach Adrian Heath suggests Jackson has “it.” Even if Heath can’t exactly define what that it is.

“The kid’s got something, a little bit of something, even in training,” Heath said. “He looks like he has a goal in him.”

The Loons brought him to training camp, liked what they saw and acquired his homegrown rights from the New York Red Bulls at April’s end. He headed into his first MLS game instructed to get that goal when the Loons last played last month. Then he was called back just when Niko Hansen scored a tying goal in the 78th minute at Real Salt Lake.

“I was excited to almost make my debut,” Jackson said. “I’m pretty confident it will happen.”

It could come Saturday at FC Dallas for a player signed because of a connection between his agent and Loons technical director Mark Watson.

YouTube fame

When he was 7, Jackson toured Europe for the first time with his father, Ali, a New York City-born, Detroit-raised jazz drummer. The older Jackson has played with mentor Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as well as Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton and Bobby McFerrin, among many. He has played the downtown Minneapolis Dakota Jazz Club since it was in St. Paul’s Bandana Square.

His father didn’t know the beautiful game, but he knew passion for a craft and he saw it in his son when Aziel first chased a soccer ball at age 3. Two years later, a former Iranian national-team player coaching youth soccer in West Orange, N.J., saw it, too.

“I could tell he was precocious to the sport,” Ali Jackson said. “Whatever it is people have about the game, he just had that natural connection.”

Fast and equally practiced with both feet, Aziel Jackson once accepted a social-media challenge to juggle a soccer ball 1,000 times without a drop. He reached 2,130 in 20 minutes in a video that still lives on YouTube.

“He’s an extremely disciplined guy,” Ali Jackson said. “I never had to make him practice, never said maybe he should work on his game. I’ve never had to say anything.”

A worldly education

When father toured Europe, son followed, attending summer camps organized by the biggest clubs — Ajax, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Everton, Fulham — in Europe and England.

He joined the Red Bull Academy when he was 13 and signed with France’s FC Toulouse and its U17 team two years later after his father obtained a work permit to consult and teach as an artist-in-residence there for two more seasons. He was the first American to play there.

“He has packed an awful lot in for a kid who’s such a young age,” Heath said.

Aziel was 13 when he went to Africa for the first time, 14 when he visited Dubai. He lived with his mother, Janell Johnson — a philanthropic adviser whose artistry her son credits for his writing, drawing and sculpting skills — in Seattle after returned to the United States from France. He played with amateur team Crossfire FC in 2019 and trained with the Sounders.

“I’ve been so many different places and saw so many different things,” he said. “Experiencing new cultures and being in all those football environments made going to Toulouse easier. The only problem was I had to learn French. It wasn’t as hard as I thought.”

Now he speaks fluently with Loons teammates Romain Metanire, Bakaye Dibassy and Adrien Hunou.

“His French is a lot better than mine,” said Loons player personnel director Amos Magee, who once played there.

Jackson also speaks “some good Spanish, too” and is learning Portuguese. That’s no surprise for a young man who put himself to sleep by watching highlights of Brazilian star Ronaldinho on his iPad when he was a boy.

Ali Jackson considered getting work in Brazil because his son loves Brazilian music and football but couldn’t find an opportunity.

“People think he’s Brazilian,” said his father, recalling a tournament his son played in Austria. “Everybody there thought he was Brazilian by the way he played.”

Full of life

Jackson said he also is working on writing a book he started in a journal in 2014.

“When one journal fills up, I go to the next,” he said. “It’s amazing to see the progress — where I’ve been, how I felt in that moment, in that time. I write when the time feels right.”

He has a piano and guitar in his Blaine apartment for whenever he can find time and inclination.

“If A.Z. spent as much time playing an instrument, he’d be a force,” Ali Jackson said, referring to his son by nickname.

Aziel’s older brother, fresh out of the Marines, is musical as well.

“No one else in my family plays soccer,” Jackson said. “But I got good from both sides with my parents.”

His father “absolutely” recognizes a connection between jazz and his son’s sport. Each has its rhythm and tempo. Each presents open spaces the player must decide to fill, or not. Both teams are as strong as the weakest player.

“He has displayed himself as a much older player,” Watson said. “Maybe the traveling, the different experiences — putting yourself in new situations where you need to adapt and adjust — make you grow up quicker. He could be a big part of our future.”

Heath knows Jackson’s linguistic talents “because I hear him all the time,” but said he’s unaware of his musical lineage and many interests.

“I like the kid,” Heath said. “It doesn’t surprise because he’s full of life. That’s how he plays, a lot of exuberance about him. I always talk to young players about bringing something to the club every single day. Don’t bring negativity. If you can’t do anything, just shut up or go somewhere else.

“He comes in every day. He’s positive. He wants to do well. He’s going to get an opportunity. I know he’s desperate to be a footballer. If he gets a break — which we all need — and a bit of luck, then he has a chance.”

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