Seasoned gardeners are quick to share the following adage when describing the patience needed when waiting for new plants in their gardens to flourish: The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap!
For San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Tommy Thompson, the phenomenon many garden perennials are seen to undergo is one he will hope to experience this season.
Thompson joined the Quakes in January 2014 as the club's first Homegrown Player signing. Just 18 years old and months following his freshman season at Indiana University, Thompson arrived in San Jose with an almost unrealistic hype-train of expectations in tow. His first year with the Earthquakes was one mostly of sleep.
A product of the Earthquakes Academy and Sacramento-area's Granite Bay High School, the talented Thompson was nursing an injury when he signed and would not make his MLS debut until June. Soon after, he joined USL affiliate Sacramento Republic FC on loan and played an important role in helping it capture the league's championship in its inaugural season.
In his second year with San Jose, Thompson made more appearances than the season before, but his overall minutes decreased from his rookie campaign as he crept up the Earthquakes depth chart in midfield. For much of the early part of 2015, Thompson participated with the U.S. men's national team U-20 squad ahead of and in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. His sharpness improved, but for the second straight season, he failed to score his first MLS goal.
An off-season that stressed fitness and finishing bridged the time leading to the start of preseason, and now Thompson looks ahead to 2016, which he hopes will be a "leap" year in more ways than one, especially in front of goal.
"Yeah, I'd like to get on the scoresheet, for sure," said Thompson. "It's been a long time coming, but I think this year is going to be the year. I've been working a lot of my finishing and I'm looking forward to hopefully having it show on the field."
With his first and second MLS seasons behind him, the 20-year-old Thompson recognizes that the challenge to his emergence is not just his own talent, but also the talent that surrounds him on the practice field. In just the last 12 months, the Earthquakes have added experienced midfield depth with the signings of Anibal Godoy and Simon Dawkins to go along with veterans Matias Perez Garcia and Shea Salinas.
"I think that is a good thing," said Thompson. "The number one priority is to get wins throughout the season. To have talented players come in provides me the opportunity to learn from better players, so I'm hoping to take it all in stride and work my absolute hardest to make an impact."
Making that impact will, at least initially, be something that Thompson endeavors to do on the pitch. Preseason training and a slate of tune-up games, rather than stopping by head coach Dominic Kinnear's office, will provide him the opportunity to prove that he belongs in the matchday 18 when the MLS regular season kicks off on March 6 against the Colorado Rapids.
"Tommy is coming in really fit," said Kinnear. "He looks in great shape, and preseason for him, as well as a lot of guys, is really important. He is going to get a lot of time to show, and that is the best way to knock on the door, rather than to just do it verbally. You want the guy on the field showing you."
So far this preseason, Thompson has played in every game, scoring once in each of the first two contests. On the team's recently completed trip to Arizona, he did not find the net against three opponents, but he did notch the assist in the Earthquakes 1-0 victory over Seongnam FC of South Korea to close out the desert friendlies.
Because of the heavy squad rotation employed by Kinnear, Thompson has not played as part of a set lineup. In his previous two seasons, he has often been stationed centrally. However, the third-year midfielder has seen most of his minutes this preseason on the wing, a position at which is a likely to earn his minutes during the 2016 MLS campaign.
"As a young guy, you want to be versatile," said Thompson. "Throughout the off-season, I have worked on the different skillsets needed for both the central and wide positions. I'm ready for anything, and I can't wait to get started."
Sleep, creep, then leap in 2016? Thompson appears ready to make the adage a reality, but a lot of whether or not that plan comes to fruition is up to Kinnear, whose expectations are as straightforward as can be for his young midfielder.
"I expect him to play well every day and put himself in contention for time," said Kinnear. "That's always the expectation for him."