In December, Jalen Markey was getting ready to finish his classes before going home for winter break when he got an unexpected email.
The 18-year-old freshman at the University of North Carolina redshirted his freshman year with the Tarheels and a sports hernia and meniscus injury limited his time on the field over the last year. However, his prior showings with the U.S. Youth National Teams and the Sounders FC Academy earned him a call-up to the U.S. U-20 National Team for the team’s January camp earlier this month.
“I was a little bit surprised to get called in, to be honest,” said Markey, a Renton native and O’Dea High School product. “I hadn’t played this year at school because I got hurt, but people think I’m a decent enough player to get called in, which is awesome.”
Markey isn’t new to international call-ups. He had become a regular with the U.S. U-18 squad, playing in tournaments in Holland and Portugal, while also starring for the Sounders FC Academy teams for three years. He played two seasons with the U-16 team and one with the U-18 team before heading to North Carolina, where he redshirted the 2013 season.
Under U-20 Coach Tab Ramos, Markey rejoined many of his teammates from those earlier national team camps at the 36-man camp in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, from January 3-12.
“It was great to see some guys I’ve played with before. It’s always an honor to get called in,” said Markey, who also noted that he was re-energized by the call-up. “I was excited. It’s another opportunity to show how I can play. It did give me a little jump and got me going. I’ve got a little fire in the belly, I guess you could say.”
Over the course of the camp, the players underwent several two-a-day training sessions and played two scrimmages.
With a mixture of college players and professionals in the camp, one might expect a discrepancy in talent on the field, but Markey saw them all as equals and felt he had no problems keeping up.
“There wasn’t a big difference between the college players and professional players. Everyone was on the same level,” he said.
A sizable defender at 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, Markey has always found success with his strength. As players have gotten older, that advantage has become less glaring, but he hasn’t found any difficulty adjusting.
“Everyone’s bigger, stronger and faster. When you’re playing at the youth level, you can make mistakes and get away with it,” he said. “Here they capitalize on those mistakes better. If you want to play professionally, you have to minimize those mistakes.”
Markey is now back in Chapel Hill and looking forward to Spring soccer with the Tar Heels and gearing up for his second season, and first on the field.