Every season brings forth a swath of talented players, with a few rising all the way to the international level. Some break out from opening day, while others earn an opportunity at a later stage through hard work or a bit of luck. This summer, Aziel Jackson hit his stride with St. Louis City SC and is helping the expansion club to a fantastic first year in Major League Soccer. The 21-year-old midfielder took a winding road to reach the senior level, a journey that might continue with transfer interest reportedly growing.
Born in New York and the “son of a travelling jazz musician,” Jackson played with Met Oval and the New York Red Bulls Academy for three years before relocating to France, competing with the Toulouse youth set-up and Blagnac in the fifth-tier Championnat National 3. He then relocated back to the United States and joined Crossfire FC while training with the Seattle Sounders. Clubs were drawn to his obvious “excellent technical quality,” including incisive passing and evasive dribbling.
His peripatetic youth imbued him with a maturity that helped him adapt to new environments, a crucial skill for sporting professionals. “I’ve been so many different places and saw so many different things,” Jackson shared with the Star Tribune. “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.”
In April of 2021, Minnesota United signed him to a two-year Homegrown Player contract with options for three additional seasons, describing him as an “exciting player with an eye for goal” and “a bit of a nightmare to play against.” A few months later, following a single inclusion in the match-day squad, the club sent him on loan to North Carolina FC in USL League One. He made 12 total appearances, contributing one goal and three assists.
The next season, Jackson made a mere two substitute appearances with the first team, both in the U.S. Open Cup, although his free kick secured a victory over SC Paderborn in a friendly. The versatile attacker stood out with the reserve team in MLS Next Pro, contributing ten goals and seven assists in 23 matches. The league named him to the Best XI, while the club voted him Player of the Year.
“I think NEXT Pro was definitely a big year for me, being Best XI – those minutes,” Jackson told MLSSoccer.com. “Because it’s hard for young players nowadays. Like you think you need to be somewhere when actually you just need to stay where you are and continue to strive. Because a lot of players get complacent where they are. I was one of those players, but learning through the MLS NEXT Pro system is just about game in, game out being professional, showing up. Showing up like you were on the first team, do the same thing you would do on the second team that you do on the first.”
During the offseason, Jackson was transferred to expansion side St. Louis CITY SC, which viewed him as a “promising talent.” Jackson initially split time between the senior and reserve levels, notching a brace in a 5-1 victory in the third round of the Open Cup against Union Omaha. At the end of June, he began picking up regular starts with the first team and went on a searing run of form with one goal and three assists in five matches while standing out in the high-pressing tactical set-up. The club is having a fantastic initial season in MLS, topping the Western Conference and looking all but assured of a spot in the playoffs. According to Transfermarkt, transfer interest is reportedly growing, as Bayer Leverkusen, Paderborn, Hannover 96, and Villarreal are kicking the tires on the young talent, a group that is certain to grow as his performances and production continue to improve.
Primarily an attacking midfielder, the versatile Jackson lines up at a variety of positions, described as “possessing a style that’s all his own” due to his skill with the ball, daring nature, and strength. He is praised for being “extremely disciplined,” able to “see the [opponents’] weaknesses and exploit them.” Target Scouting identifies him as a “high-energy counterattacking threat who thrives in transition moments,” noting his acceleration, ball control, combination play, and ability to operate in tight spaces.
“When he’s on his game,” St. Louis manager Bradley Carnell said to St. Louis Magazine. “He is almost unstoppable. Aziel brings a livewire mentality out there. He always tries to make a play. Sometimes good or bad, but he tries to make a lot happen. Whether we play him out on the right or if we play him centrally at the 10, you can see in tight spaces that he has certain qualities.”
After several years of club hopping, Jackson appears to have finally found the right environment that provides him with playing time and the opportunity for development. However, success in soccer tends to be a series of escalators, especially for young players, and the next move could be right around the corner. With continued success and consistency, he might find himself with a new outfit in the next year or two and perhaps make his initial entry into the USMNT fold, likely during January camp.