From the Team Room, Vol I: Arriving

With some players who enjoy telling their stories, FC Buffalo is bringing back “From the Team Room” for 2017. One of the primary actors in this series will be Jamaican striker Akean Shackleford, who is nearing the end of his first year in the U.S. He’d love for you to learn even more about him here.

When the club asked me to talk about my time in Buffalo and what I like to do, I had to laugh because since I was a very little boy all I’ve liked to do is play soccer. I was born June 15, 1996 in Savannah La Mar, West Moreland, Jamaica. I have 11 siblings, one sister on my mother’s side and seven brothers and three sisters on my father’s side, some of whom I haven’t even met!

I’ve always tried to play soccer. I grew up in the city, close to the beach. You have other kids who would find games to play but I’d wake up at 9 a.m., I’d get a soccer ball, go to the field and wouldn’t come back until 9 p.m. I just wanted to play, even before people started to notice me.

I figured out that soccer could be a thing for me when I was 13. There was a league called the Parish League which had the best players in the 14 parishes of Jamaica, and I scored 24 goals in 16 games. A couple of years later I was selected for the U-17 Jamaica national team pool, and I realized that being passionate can take you places. My U-17 pool was very good, with Junior Flemmings (New York Red Bulls II), Martin Davis (Toronto FC II), and Michael Seaton (Hapoel Tel Aviv).

I knew that I would have to leave Jamaica, and that’s a big decision because it’s viewed like once you leave Jamaica as a player, once you use an airplane — you’re considered going very far and they consider that if you come back, you are retired!

This was not a problem except I would miss my mother and sister. My mother raised me and has been everything to me. Her name is Alisa Johnson, and to be fair there’s no words that can explain her. If I’m the wall, she’s the concrete. If I’m the building, she’s the foundation. There’s always times where she can be like a little kid and having fun with me, but there comes a time when she’s serious and she’s straight-forward and doesn’t beat around bushes. She lets you see the big picture of life. She is very special to me.

So I had a great season at Jamaica College on the team with Junior Flemmings where we were All-Island School Boy Champions and won the first ever School Boy Super Cup for our school. I also got to play and learn at Sandals Whitehouse for Aaron Lawrence, the famous goalkeeper from the 1998 World Cup. And I look up to coach Everton Tomlinson basically like an idol.

Loads of college coaches had high interest in me, but I didn’t have the required grades. I hadn’t realized that I needed to focus and apply myself in school as well as I did in my love for soccer, but a Division II assistant coach who liked me was patient and got the head job at Indian Hills Community College, and now I’m doing well in school because I work just as hard at my grades as I do at soccer!

Still it is hard to be away from my mom, and I have to scrap to save up just to stay in school. I know I can work my magic on the field, and I have quite a few D-I schools who are interested in me, but I just need to get enough money to survive each term and get to the next level. I even started a GoFundMe page to try and help me get to the next level, where I’ve been told I can get a full scholarship.

When I first arrived in America, at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, my phone only worked with internet, so to call my ride I had to ask a man to use his phone. He said, “Don’t run off with it,” which I thought was funny. Then the same thing happened when I arrived in Buffalo, and I had to wonder who just runs away with phones?!?

Buffalo has been pretty good except everyone thinks I’m a gym rat, and the truth is I needed the Wifi for my phone for the first few days. I’ve liked training with the team, Coach Casey and Coach Johnny make sure we understand the drills and change it up a lot, but it was very hard to not be internationally cleared for the first game. The fans were so loud, and it was nail-biting knowing that I couldn’t play and yelling, “Go ahead now!” whenever we had a chance to score against Dayton. I even met a guy with the FCB tattoo on his arm. I was shocked to see how many people came out to the game. I have been cleared this week and hope to be selected for the game by Coach Frank.

At the game it was great to meet a man from my hometown that many of you know: Asani Samuels. We just greeted each other normally like in Jamaica and talked about how we’ve both only been back once to visit. We basically talked about going out and catching up and how I saw him play when I was in primary school and he was at school boy level. It was really good to talk to him.

I can’t wait to get on the pitch “for our city” and I hope to have my international clearance form as soon as possible. Next time we talk, it will be about a win and hopefully my first FC Buffalo goals!