Activity during Major League Soccer's offseason has been running at a breakneck pace since the start of the new year, and in the last week, the San Jose Earthquakes have caught up to speed.
On Tuesday, the Earthquakes were awarded the rights to former UNC star forward Billy Schuler in a weighted lottery. Two days later, San Jose selected Stanford midfielder JJ Koval and UCLA defender Joe Sofia at the MLS SuperDraft in Philadelphia. Three promising players that will have a chance they belong on the team when the Quakes convene on January 26 for the start preseason training camp.
But the most significant move of the week came today, as the Earthquakes finally agreed to terms on a homegrown player contract with Indiana forward Tommy Thompson. Named the Big-Ten Freshman of the Year last season, Thompson clearly made an impact in his one year with the defending national champion Hoosiers, scoring five goals and collecting three assists in only 16 appearances.
A product of the Earthquakes Academy and a native of Loomis, Thompson was long courted by general manager John Doyle as a local signing. He trained with the first team for a short spell last spring and was a regular in the Quakes reserve line-up. Thompson elected to enroll at Indiana last summer instead of signing a deal with San Jose, but Doyle stuck with it and secured the 18-year old with the first homegrown contract in club history. He gives up the last three years of his NCAA eligibility by signing with the Quakes.
"I don't know if I've ever had to make a more difficult decision," Thompson said in a release issued by Indiana University Athletics. "This past semester has been the best few months of my life. It was hard to leave such great staff, players, fans and facilities.
"However, San Jose has provided me with an opportunity to make a life-long dream come true. It has been an absolute pleasure here in Bloomington and I could not be happier with my decision to attend IU. Thank you to everyone for the unbelievable support, and I look forward to starting the next chapter of my life."
Thompson first came to the attention of Doyle while a youth player in the Sacramento area. He attended Granite Bay High School, scoring 52 goals and 21 assists in two seasons with the highly regarded prep team. With the Earthquakes reserves, Thompson collected four assists in five appearances, three of them starts.
A forward, adept at effectively utilizing his pace for the Hoosiers, Thompson played from a more withdrawn attacking position with the Quakes in both training and the reserves. At 5'7" tall and 150 lbs., the speedy ball-handler translates more to an attacking midfielder or winger at the MLS level. Thompson's versatility as a distributor has always been overshadowed by his goal scoring prowess, but it should be on full display with the Earthquakes.
The significance of the signing cannot be understated, as Thompson's contract status means the talented teenager's compensation is exempt from the Earthquakes salary cap. The homegrown player acquisition procedure was introduced by MLS in 2008 as a means of allowing its clubs to directly sign its academy players without subjecting them to league-wide distributions systems like the SuperDraft.
The salary-cap exemption is a reward of sorts for investing in and developing local youth talent. Since the program's inception, the 19 teams in MLS have signed a total of 68 players with this mechanism. Notable homegrown players include goalkeeper Bill Hamid of DC United, Deigo Fegundez of the New England Revolution, Gyasi Zaedes of the LA Galaxy, and DeAndre Yedlin of the Seattle Sounders. MLS roster rules allow teams to sign up to two players per year as homegrown players, each of whom may earn much more than the league mandated minimum salary.
Thompson will arrive in San Jose next week to finalize the deal and shortly after will begin his professional career with the Earthquakes. Though details of his contract were not made public, as is league policy, expectations are that they will include multiple years.