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San Jose Earthquakes 2020 player postmortem: Tommy Thompson

Homegrown adds new position to repertoire.

San Jose Earthquakes v Seattle Sounders FC Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Tommy Thompson, the San Jose Earthquakes’ first-ever Homegrown player, returned for his seventh season with the club in 2020. That longevity put him next to only Shea Salinas and Chris Wondolowski in terms of seniority on the squad, and under Matias Almeyda, he’s found greater heights to his game than we’ve seen before.

Remember, back when Thompson was signed out of Indiana University in 2014, he was a fleet-footed winger, a player who looked like he had come out of the freestyle mixtape world more than the NCAA realm, and there was considerable hype about what he could do on the pro level.

While TomThom was one of the most skilled players on the field at any given time, his prodigious dribbling prowess turned out to be most of his game in the early years, as he struggled to marry an end product to the ability to get away from defenders and dribble out of trouble.

He got a pretty good run in 2017, indicating maybe he was breaking through, but he was one of the players who was totally pushed aside during the disastrous 2018 campaign, and the arrival of Almeyda may have just saved Thompson’s time with the Earthquakes, ultimately.

In the last two seasons, Thompson has become a fullback who plays pretty regularly on both sides of the defense, the conversion to the position unlocking a new side to Thompson’s game. Now, his lack of goals and assists aren’t an issue, because they’re really a bonus when they happen from fullback. And he can still get out of tight spaces along the sideline and has turned into a pretty steady defender as well.

Here are Thompson’s statistics from 2020:

Tommy Thompson 2020 Earthquakes Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 20 13 1,125 1 4 10 4 2 0
MiB Knockouts 2 2 141 0 0 0 0 0 0
Playoffs 1 0 18 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 23 15 1,284 1 4 10 4 2 0

Thompson reverted to being a part-time starter in 2020, but he was often the first option when starters Nick Lima and Marcos Lopez were unavailable or not in the lineup in a given game. It’s a testament to Almeyda’s trust in Thompson that he played him at left back, for the first time in his career, quite a few times in 2020, when he had been a right-sided player previously. Obviously inverted fullbacks are not entirely unusual these days, but it’s still somewhat risky to go that route the first time.

Still only 25, Thompson seems to have found his role in the pro game — while also still capable of pushing up and playing in midfield or attack on occasion — and there’s still room for growth. His trajectory reminds me somewhat of Jorge Villafaña, a winger who also had potential but struggled to produce in attack and was pushed back to convert into a left back at a relatively advanced age. He’s gone on to win an MLS Cup and Liga MX title as a left back and is still going strong into his 30s.

Thompson was signed to a “multiyear” contract extension in December, so let’s say it’s for two or more years. With Lima traded to Austin FC and Lopez likely to be on international duty at various points in 2021, Thompson could get an increase in playing time, although one could argue the club needs a new starting right back. Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they start the season with Thompson as the starter and look to add a newcomer in one of the transfer windows if they don’t get a deal done before the season.

And truly, this could be a big year to show what Thompson’s ceiling will ultimately be in the pro game. If he gets a real run and gets in a rhythm as a starter, perhaps he’ll be the latest Villafaña or Robbie Rogers, a winger converted into fullback who is the real deal in MLS. If not, maybe he’s a backup and rotational starter, and he’ll be extremely experienced by backup fullback standards. Time will tell.

But TomThom remains a charismatic homegrown player, a man of many talents who has settled into a useful role with the Earthquakes, and looks set to stay with the club for the foreseeable future. All in all, it’s a happy story that doesn’t look set to end anytime soon.

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