The kids are all right: Tommy Thompson leads the way as San Jose Earthquakes turn to their youth

Even as newly-signed Designated Player Matias Perez Garcia was beginning his recovery from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the San Jose Earthquakes used their depth to help pull out a 1-1 tie against the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday.

Yeah, you read that right: “used their depth.”

The Quakes have faced a host of depth tests in 2014, and this time Mark Watson was able to bring several names off the bench and still come away with a point against a team that finished the night atop both the Western Conference and the Supporters’ Shield race.

With Yannick Djalo (strained quad) and Steven Lenhart (knee surgery) joining Garcia in the rehab room, Watson gave Homegrown rookie Tommy Thompson his first MLS start, pairing him with team captain Chris Wondolowski as front-runners.

The team has brought Thompson along slowly – agonizingly so for fans salivating over his collegiate highlight reels – after preseason knee surgery, but they finally turned him loose this week, starting with an 18-minute stint on Saturday in the 5-0 loss to FC Dallas.

Against Seattle Thompson impressed during the first half, teaming with Wondolowski in multiple instances to ask questions of the Sounders back line. Wondolowski sprang Thompson down the right flank in the 13th minute, and the rookie’s low cross required a critical interception by Seattle right back DeAndre Yedlin.

Thompson took a shot from Wondolowski’s pass in the 30th minute, with Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei dropping quickly to play it. And the duo played a great 1-2 exchange in the 39th, but Thompson’s reaching final touch, meant to tee up Shea Salinas, nudged the ball out of his path instead.

“It’s clear to see that [Thompson] is a real quality player,” Watson told reporters at CenturyLink Field. “Overall, it was a great performance. He just turned 19, so he’s a young kid. It was his first MLS start, and didn’t seem overawed by the occasion at all. I thought he had a great night. Worked hard, had some great moments. He’s comfortable on the ball, he can go past people. He started a lot of good attacking sequences for us, and I think he’s got a really bright future.”

Watson didn’t stop there, however. Rookie midfielder JJ Koval, who saw just 78 minutes of action in the Quakes’ previous 14 league games, partnered Sam Cronin in the middle of the pitch. And third-year winger Cordell Cato, installed at the half to try to take the game to the rampaging Yedlin, beat the newly minted Tottenham Hotspur property before sliding a game-tying cross for Wondolowski to tap in at the back post in the 65th minute.

The kids, in short, were all right.

“This team, how we play, regardless of who’s in, who’s missing – we always go out there and try to give our best,” Cato told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Seattle. “Guys like myself that are not playing a lot, we are ready. We don’t sit on the bench or sit in the stands on a daily basis and just say, ‘Oh, we’re not playing.’ We go to practice every day and we work as hard as we possibly can to make sure we’re prepared for an opportunity like this.”