USL Championship side Orange County SC has signed 14-year-old Francis Jacobs to a multiyear professional contract, the club and the player have told ESPN FC, making him the youngest male player to sign a professional soccer contract in the U.S.
Jacobs, who projects as a central midfielder, signed with OCSC on July 26 at 14 years, four months and 29 days old. Freddy Adu was 14 years, five months and 16 days old when he signed with MLS and D.C. United in November 2003.
Earlier this year, 13-year-old Olivia Moultrie effectively began her professional career by signing on with sports agency Wasserman Media Group as well as signing an endorsement deal with Nike. She has since been training with the Portland Thorns in the NWSL, which currently does not permit players to take part in league games until they turn 18, though she has played in friendlies and preseason games.
Jacobs will be eligible for selection for next weekend's game against the Las Vegas Lights in the USL, which plays at one level below MLS, though OCSC manager Braeden Cloutier told ESPN FC it was unlikely that Jacobs would play.
"I just want to make sure we're doing this at the right pace and the right time," he said about playing Jacobs.
If Jacobs does see the field, he will become the youngest American to play in a professional league match.
"I'm pretty excited just because I've worked really hard throughout the years to get to this point, and the guys are really cool on the team," Jacobs said via telephone. "So it's pretty exciting to join a team you really like, and I'm looking forward to the future."
OCSC GM Oliver Wyss told ESPN FC that Jacobs has been training with the club's first team since May, and during that time the 5-foot-11 midfielder showed he could compete playing against men who, in some cases, are more than twice his age.
"As a 14-year-old he's already more mature than most of the teenagers that we come across who play for us," Wyss said. "I think that has a dramatic impact because his coachability, his smarts, his intelligence, are very, very high for a young man. That also played into the equation.
"If you just looked at age, it's a big step to make. But the reality is he's trained with us all summer long. We have the chance to evaluate him continuously, and we feel he is ready for the next step. We will give him the time and it's not something where we rush into it. It's ultimately up to Francis to prove that he's ready to make a game appearance for our first team."
A product of nearby Laguna Beach, Jacobs spent time playing with local club Irvine Strikers before joining OCSC earlier this year. Jacobs had training stints with Bundesliga clubs Cologne and Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, but the option of staying close to home made joining OCSC the right step for the player and his family.
Jacobs will attend a local private school in the afternoons in order to continue his education.
"He's had opportunities to play abroad," said Jacobs' father, Jeff. "But I didn't think that would have worked out for him because he's 14, and taking him out of his nest was not the right move at this point. What OCSC has offered couldn't be any better.
"We live very close by. Francis' life will stay intact in terms of friends and normalcy. And OCSC has an amazing training environment, an amazing team, and the staff has assured my wife and I that they're going to look after him and do what's best for him."
The next step will be for Jacobs to prove his worth in practice ahead of this weekend's match.
"It will be really exciting," Jacobs said about possibly making his debut. "But it comes down to how you play in the practices. It's the coach's decision of which lineup he wants to put out there."