The San Jose Earthquakes are in eighth place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference. With 11 games remaining in the season, it’s not inconceivable that they could erase the 8-point gap between them and the final playoff spot, but things are looking bleak. Their big summer signing, Matias Perez Garcia, scored in his debut, but has since undergone knee surgery. Having long ago exited the US Open Cup, 2014 is looking like a lost season for the Quakes.
Sometimes, however, good things are discovered during lost seasons. Due in part to injuries, the Earthquakes have called on their first-ever homegrown player, Tommy Thompson. The son of Gregg Thompson, who made twelve appearances for the USMNT in the 1980s, Tommy played for the Earthquakes Academy before going to Indiana University, where he was the leading scorer his freshman year. He turned 19 on August 15th, and has gotten his first two MLS starts in San Jose’s last two games. It’s far too early to make bold predictions on his future, but from what he’s shown so far, the youngster is worth keeping an eye on.
Early on in his first start, Thompson found himself surrounded in Seattle’s penalty area, and tried to wriggle his way free using his skill. It didn’t quite come off.
Thompson was called for a handball as the ball rolled down his right arm, but the very attempt was audacious. More importantly, it highlights what would become a theme of his first two starts: great control in tight quarters.
The ability to keep that ball in bounds and then get a pass away is not necessarily a given in MLS. It’s a small thing, sure, but Thompson has better tricks in his book.
Maybe he comes from a long line of clowns, or perhaps he’s simply played too much FIFA Street. Whatever the reason, Thompson has already displayed a fondness for juggling. Above, he uses his skill to turn and put in a well-placed lob for Sam Cronin. On the three occasions below, he casually flicks the ball over a defender to himself.
That last one also shows a strength that you wouldn’t expect from Thompson. The stereotype of teenage players is that they’re physically overmatched by opponents who have, you know, finished growing. The Earthquakes’ website lists Thompson at a slight 5’7″ and 145 lbs. But that doesn’t keep him from shielding away a World Cup defender in Carlos Valdes before turning and passing upfield.
Here he successfully holds off Amobi Okugo (6’0″, 175) long enough to get the pass away and maintain possession. Against the Union, Thompson was fouled seven times. No one else suffered more than three fouls.
All this is well and good, but perhaps you’re looking for more substance to go with the flair. In both of his starts, Thompson has played as a striker underneath Chris Wondolowski in a 4-4-1-1. In that role, he should at the very least be creating chances. Ask and you shall receive.
He hasn’t been too far away so far, but with Wondolowski playing in front of him, Thompson is bound to pick up assists before long.
There is always a risk with young players of overhyping them, building them up too much and setting expectations they cannot fulfill. I believe Thompson’s skill on the ball speaks for itself at his young age, but for one reason or another skilled players don’t always reach their potential. There have been moments in both games where his inexperience has shown, and he’s made mistakes; he’d be superhuman if that weren’t true. He isn’t asked to do much defending, and where more veteran players in his role are known for dropping deeper to spark attacks, Thompson hasn’t yet shown that same demand for the ball. These are things that he’ll have to pick up as he goes along, and I’m sure there are other areas where he can improve.
But he’s just 19. And that first touch, his ability to instantly bring a ball under control, is a great foundation on which to build.
Regardless of how his career pans out, I think that it is fair to say that he is symbolic of the sort of talent that is now being produced by MLS academies. Thompson is San Jose’s first homegrown player; he won’t be their last. In the years and decades to come, we can expect talent of his caliber—and beyond—from the Earthquakes and all of MLS’s clubs.