Most soccer players grow up desperate to represent their hometown club.
But for Jaylin Lindsey, it may have seemed like a dream that was slipping away.
Born and raised in the Queen City, Lindsey had to move out to Kansas City, Missouri, in 2015 aged 15 to get his break in professional soccer, with no MLS team in Charlotte at the time.
That, of course, all changed when David Tepper was awarded an MLS expansion franchise in 2019. Lindsey’s dream finally became a reality in December 2021 when he was signed by Charlotte FC as one of the club’s first-ever players.
"Pretty much most of my life, growing up, being from here, I wanted to represent Charlotte in some type of way, whether it's on or off the field, but now that I can do it, it's a surreal feeling,” Lindsey told 90min in an exclusive interview around Charlotte FC’s first-ever home match against the LA Galaxy in March.
He added: “My family's obviously so happy. It's just something that's kind of like a dream come true for them. To be in my hometown, playing in front of them and they can come to every game they want to. It's just a big moment for me and my family.”
The conversation with Lindsey happened a matter of days after the full-back played in Charlotte’s 1-0 defeat to the Galaxy; a defeat in their first home game, but a match that broke the MLS attendance record with 74,479 people turning up at Bank of America Stadium to watch history unfold. It's a story told in 90min's The Making of Charlotte FC, presented by DoorDash documentary.
Watch the story of Charlotte FC's journey to MLS in 90min's The Making of Charlotte FC, presented by DoorDash, on 90min channels now. Subscribe to our new US YouTube channel.
One of the standout images from that evening is of Lindsey sitting in the center circle at full-time, washed with emotion and taking in the moment. That emotion was still palpable days later.
“It was just something you can't even describe,” Lindsey recalled of the night. “I'm walking on the field and have 74,000 people behind me, at my home stadium. Obviously, at a stadium I've been growing up watching games in [but] I've never seen it full in my life. So to have it full for a game that I'm a part of, it's special.
“That's why, for example, when I was walking out the field and I was like, you know what? I'm going to go sit in the center circle because I've worked so hard and I've been through so much to get this moment now and just breaking [the] attendance record was kind of like a milestone for me. And just sitting there in that center circle, I was just picturing myself sitting in the seats pretty high up and watching games and now I'm that player on the field. I was just so happy for myself and my teammates.”
As their expansion year has progressed, Charlotte have grown into Major League Soccer. Even despite undergoing a coaching change, with Christian Lattanzio replacing Miguel Angel Ramirez on an interim basis, the Crown are right in the Playoff mix and boast one of the best home records in the league.
History continues to be made, but that only counts for something if there’s a future.
Lindsey, who grew up idolizing Cristiano Ronaldo, must now find a way to provide similar inspiration to local youngsters to ensure he’s the first of many Charlotte natives who represent their hometown club, not just a one-off result of circumstance.
“Not many people can say they grew up in a city and played professional [soccer] in that city,” said Lindsey. “I want to be that person, for little kids that are growing up here in Charlotte, to look up to and say, ‘hey, he's done it. Why can I not do it?’
“Do they want to exceed their dreams or not? I want to be that person to look up to.”