Never stop working. Everyone wants to know the secret recipe to become a professional athlete. It’s just repetitions.
It’s safe to say that soccer runs deep in the Thompson family veins.
While 19-year-old Tommy Thompson may be the hot name on the lips of San Jose Earthquakes fans eager to see the club’s first MLS Homegrown player make his mark during the inaugural season at the brand-new Avaya Stadium, he’s not the only standout player in his immediate clan. In fact, the Loomis native is actually a second-generation professional.
His father, Gregg Thompson, who coached every youth team Tommy was a part of, was 1983 NASL Rookie of the Year. He played professionally for the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Minnesota Strikers and scored one goal in 12 caps for the US national team, his single goal coming against Egypt in the 1984 Olympics. With such expertise to draw from, Tommy was always learning as a youth player.
“The conversations we’d have after every practice or game drastically increased my soccer knowledge and made me aware of things that a lot of players aren’t aware of at that age, because they don’t have a coach discussing every aspect of the game after it transpires,” he shares. “I think my dad was the perfect mentor for me. He never pushed me so hard that I didn’t want to go out and practice on my own or I didn’t want to touch a soccer ball.”
In particular, he remembers 2-on-2 games where he and his father would face off against older brothers Ty and Tanner. The games were always competitive, and Thompson believes it was that added intensity that helped him push to become a professional. It seemed to help the others succeed as well. Ty, the oldest, is now Stanford’s captain, while middle brother Tanner scored first team All American honors as a sophomore at Indiana.
Yet that closeness didn’t come without its pitfalls. Tommy recalls when his father had to split him from Tanner, forcing the two to play on different club teams in their early teens. At the time, the rivalry between middle and younger brother proved too hard to effectively manage, but once they reunited a few years back, they shared an undeniable chemistry. With college approaching, the two made a pact to play together, and they ended up at Indiana University, one of the nation’s premier men’s soccer programs.
“It was always going to be a group decision with me and Tanner,” Thompson explains. “Indiana had great training facilities, a great field, a great fan base. All the boxes were checked for both of us.” Tommy committed his sophomore year and sped up his arrival by graduating from Granite Bay High School in just three years.
As college loomed, Thompson’s life changed significantly. During the summer of 2013, at just 17, he and Tanner moved out to Ohio to train in Columbus before their freshman season with the Hoosiers. The change was especially strange for Thompson, who was headed to the Midwest with eyes on a collegiate athletic career, while his friends at Granite Bay still had a one more year of high school.
He made an immediate impact at Indiana, receiving Big 10 Freshman of the Year honors and helping his team to a Big 10 tournament title. Yet despite those accolades, he admits that the Quakes’ interest caught him a bit by surprise. As he explains, he had been injured for a fair portion of the year, but his return to form was quick and impressive, with Thompson racking up five goals and three assists in 16 games.
When the team suffered an unfortunate first-round exit against a tough Akron squad, Thompson was certain he’d be back the next season to continue the team’s momentum, but in November, the Quakes and general manager John Doyle came knocking.
The prospect of being a pro athlete wasn’t new to Tommy. Before his freshman year of high school, he had traveled with Tanner to the UK, where they trained with a handful of clubs, including English Premier League squad Newcastle United and Scottish Premier League titans Celtic FC.
“It was important for me and my brother to see the level that the youth are playing at in Europe,” he recalls. “It was kind of a benchmark for us, because we needed to learn how far we were from their level or how on track we were.”
While there was interest, teams had mentioned the difficulty of securing a European Union passport for players under 18. The two were told to return when they were a bit older. Still, a trial with a team was no sure shot, and at 18—old enough to bypass previous passport issues—Tommy had a guaranteed contract on the table with the Quakes. He knew that if he played stateside, San Jose was his planned destination. The offer was too good to pass up. Thompson and his father negotiated with the team until mid-January, when he was named their first MLS Homegrown player.
Though he was glad to have helped Indiana win some silverware, Thompson was still sad to part from Indiana after just a single season. After all, he was leaving a girlfriend, a coach and program he embraced, and a brother he had made a joint collegiate decision with. But now, after ample time to settle into his new surroundings, Thompson says he’s “excited about what’s to come here in San Jose.”
Asked about any advice for players who are shooting to go pro, he’s quick to offer a response: “Never stop working. Everyone wants to know the secret recipe to become a professional athlete and to get to the skill set of what some of the guys in this league have. It’s just repetitions.”
He adds that while these efforts may go unrecognized, the key is to stay persistent, a point he understands from experience. “I always considered myself to be one of the top players in Northern California, but I was never invited to any national team camps,” he says. “I went to one when I was 12. I didn’t get invited back until last year. You have to have the inner belief and the desire to keep working until someone does give you that shot. Then when they give you that shot, you’ve got to take it.”
Though Thompson has already captured the imagination of the Quakes fan base, who eagerly wait to see him blossom before their eyes, he still faces the reality that he’s a teenager in a locker room full of veterans. Thompson seems to take that fact in stride, aware that there’s still plenty to learn.
“It’s an interesting dynamic, but I’m grateful to be so young and in this position because I have so much to learn from guys like Chris Wondolowski and Jordan Stewart,” he says. “They’ve been around the block and know how to approach the professional life. I’m a sponge in the locker room, I’m a sponge on the field, and I’m grateful to be just 19 years old and learning from some of the best guys in the league.”
Full Article Originally appeared in Sight and Sound Issue 7.1
Article by Brandon Roos
Images by Daniel Garcia