Not long into the 2019 MLS season, the San Jose Earthquakes were struggling mightily under new head coach Matias Almeyda and it looked like the Argentine might be in over his head in a new league.
And then, Tommy Thompson gave a speech before a game that appeared to be a turning point in the new regime.
This speech was one of the most remarkable moments of the season in the league in 2019, Thompson stared straight down the camera and insisted the team was going to turn it around. And they improved substantially from there.
The 2020 season was not one of linear progression for the Earthquakes, but once again, Thompson and the squad showed determination to do their best and when the season looked like it was spinning out of control, as they went eight games winless, they somehow flipped a switch to turn it around and got into the playoffs to end on a positive note.
Thompson is set to keep believing, as the versatile local guy signed a new deal this week to remain in San Jose for the foreseeable future. As the first Quakes’ homegrown signing, back in 2014, Thompson reflected on the evolution of the program at the club in the interim.
“The whole homegrown system was still somewhat new when I started back in 2014, and to see what that mechanism has transformed into and what it’s meant for American soccer has been incredible to be a part of,” Thompson told reporters during a conference call Thursday. “And I’m grateful that always be San Jose’s first homegrown, but I definitely prefer it now that we have a family of homegrowns. It’s great to see young players perform the way that they’ve been playing, playing guys like Cade [Cowell] or Jacob [Akanyirige] or Gilbert [Fuentes], or Nick Lima as well. It shows that there’s a lot of talent in the Bay Area, and the young players in the Bay Area are good enough to compete at the highest level in American soccer.”
Now 25, Thompson said he believed the new deal was validation of sorts for his hard work over the years, and he’s happy to be staying in San Jose. As a Renaissance Man, who has a burgeoning youth soccer training program and a myriad of hobbies, Thompson said he’s still working to improve his Spanish but he’s proud of the progress he’s made in learning it the past two years.
“I’m still learning Spanish, I like to think I’m in a much better position than I was two years ago, but that’s a big hobby of mine, because that’s a long process,” he said. “It’s one thing to be able to communicate and to say what you want to say, but it’s another thing to be completely fluent and to be able to keep up with locker room conversations from foreigners that speak the language fluently. So that’s something I’m still working towards. So that’s going to continue to be a project of mine throughout the offseason.”
As someone who’s been involved in the local community since becoming a pro, Thompson’s work to produce virtual training sessions all over the country and world have been a bright spot during an ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He said he wants to devote more time to that now that he has a chance to breathe during the offseason.
“Another thing I’ve been working on as well is the virtual sessions that I’ve done a lot of,” he explained. “I was able to reach a couple thousand kids throughout the quarantine process, just by training different clubs online using my YouTube channel. And so I’m planning on getting back to encouraging kids to keep getting better, because we’re still in a difficult time unfortunately, I was hoping that things would look a little bit different, right now, in December than they do. But kids are still stuck at home and they’re not able to train like they normally would. So, I’m going to do everything I can to reach out to those kids, and it’s one of the amazing things about modern technology is that even though everyone is stuck at home you could still, through a computer, motivate people and that’s what I’m going to work towards.”
With Thompson fully invested in Almeyda’s system, he believes the Earthquakes aren’t far at all from becoming contenders.
“I think we’re right on the cusp of really making a splash in this league,” he said. “When we’re at our best we can compete with anybody, and it’s clear you know it was clear in that Kansas City game [in the playoffs], and it was clear in some of the different matchups we had, you know, whether it’s against LAFC or Seattle, we’re right there. And what I like most about the moment we’re in right now is it feels like we have a playing style, we have an identity that teams don’t want to play against.
“Matias said that to us at the beginning of 2019 that in a matter of months, no one’s gonna want to play against you. And it’s happened — guys from other teams that told me that after games we’re kind of a pain to play. So I think we just got to sharpen up, and a couple of key moments, I think that hurt us at times this year. But I’m sure we’re going to be bringing in some top players and I’m just excited to see what our locker room looks like in January.”
Thompson promised the Quakes would improve once before. You wouldn’t bet against him again, would you?
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