COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Hendry Thomas’ cheek-to-cheek smile after practice Tuesday was unmistakable.
The Colorado Rapids’ newest and most significant acquisition under the Oscar Pareja era left his first practice session in a Rapids uniform ready to take on the challenge of a new team, a new league and a new altitude.
“I’m used to [the altitude] a bit, but I’m going to try and train hard so it’s not a problem on the first day,” the new holding midfielder said. “I feel good after my first day here.”
Thomas is expected to be a major contributor for the struggling Rapids, who currently sit in eighth place in the Western Conference with nine games to play. Thomas comes to Colorado from English Premier League side Wigan FC, where the Honduran international accumulated 55 appearances over three seasons, but struggled to crack manager Roberto Martinez’s lineup last season.
Thomas officially signed with the Rapids early Tuesday and began his first training session with the team later that morning.
WATCH: Thomas on his Rapids arrival (Spanish)
According to a source close to the negotiations, the 27-year-old chose the Rapids over a list of potential European suitors, including La Liga side Rayo Vallecano, English Championship teams Bristol City and Brighton & Hove, Greek outfit AEK Athens and Romanian top-flighters and Europa League participants Dinamo Bucharest.
But in the end, it was the words of Rapids head coach Pareja that swayed Thomas to cross the Atlantic and join MLS.
“[Pareja] spoke with me and let me know the things the Colorado Rapids want to do, and I decided to go in this direction,” said Thomas. “I’m the type of person that wants to keep growing, and we’re going to try to do big things, calmly but with a lot of responsibility, for the Colorado Rapids.”
A natural holding midfielder, Thomas is expected to team with Jeff Larentowicz at the back of the Rapids midfield to help fill the void of veteran Pablo Mastroeni, who has been out since March after suffering a concussion and is unlikely to return anytime soon.
“I think he’s an important addition,” Pareja said of Thomas. “He came in on the first day, and with the altitude and everything, he’s a little behind. But he’s a player with experience, and the group detects it, and hopefully he can contribute to the group as quickly as possible.”
Thomas estimated he’s only about 70 to 80 percent physically ready after playing in mostly reserve matches for Wigan a season ago, but the 2010 World Cup veteran says he’s “never still” and plans on getting his conditioning back to full match level.
With 38 appearances for the Honduran national team – although none since Sept. 2011 – plenty of Thomas’ new teammates have scouting reports on him, and their reports have been positive.
“[He is a] pretty disciplined player,” said Rapids defender Tyrone Marshall, who faced him as a member of the Jamaican national team. “Typical Central American holding mid – get the ball, defend well, distribute the ball. Aggressive, solid player.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.