SAN JOSE, Calif. – As general manager of the San Jose Earthquakes, John Doyle constantly hears some version of the same refrain: You’ve got to see this kid. He’s gonna be your next star.
In the vast majority of these cases, Doyle turns up and finds a player who might be dominant now but doesn’t possess blinding MLS potential.
When Doyle watched Tommy Thompson for the first time, things were very different.
“I think he created 10 chances, ran by players, scored a couple of goals,” Doyle said of Thompson, who was then just 15 years old. “I thought, ‘Man, this is a real kid that can make it.’”
Thompson arrived this week, signing a four-year deal as the Quakes’ first Homegrown player. The 18-year-old Sacramento product turned pro after one year at Indiana University, where he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year after providing five goals and three assists in 16 appearances.
“Signing with the Earthquakes was a dream come true for me,” Thompson said at his introductory press conference on Wednesday. “I’m just glad this came to fruition at such a young age. I’m looking forward to developing as a player and maximizing my potential at this club. I can’t wait to get my future started here.”
Thompson’s signing ended the Quakes’ status as the only MLS club not to sign a Homegrown product from the academy system, but Doyle said that wasn’t part of the equation for the club.
“The first and foremost thing was that the player has to be good, has to be a player that we truly believe is going to make an impact for our team,” Doyle said. “When we sat down and talked about Tommy, we all agreed that he has great potential. ... So we were all in agreement: Let’s get Tommy signed.”
Everybody was in agreement, that is, except for Thompson and his family – dad Gregg, a former Indiana soccer star, mom Nelle, sister Tatum and older brothers Tyler and Tanner, both Division I players themselves. The Quakes made a run at Thompson before he joined the Hoosiers and again at Thanksgiving before things finally got serious last month.
“It was a really difficult decision to leave school, even for such a great club,” Thompson said. “My whole family spent weeks discussing the pros and cons.”
Eventually, Thompson’s success with the Hoosiers and as a member of San Jose’s Reserve League squad last season – where he put up a team-high four assists despite playing only half of their matches – convinced him it was time to make the leap.
Doyle said he isn’t expecting Thompson to have an immediate impact, but the hope is that he will be a long-term answer to the playmaker spot San Jose have been trying to fill ever since they were reborn as an expansion franchise in 2008.
“For me, it’s great to see a creative player like him,” Doyle said. “Someone asked, ‘Where’s he going to end up [position-wise]?’ I go, ‘He’s going to end up somewhere close to the goal, because he’s going to create goals or he’s going to score goals.’ ... Good players can do both. He has the ability to do both. He’s not just a goalscorer, he can find and open things up for other players.”
In the meantime, Thompson will try to block any pressure that might come from being San Jose’s lone Homegrown hope.
“I like to zone all that stuff out,” Thompson said. “I’m just going to focus on my game and making an impact as soon as possible.
“At the end of the day, I’m just another player on the roster.”