SAN JOSE, Calif. – Tommy Thompson’s first experience traveling for work put him on the field before an announced crowd of 49,746.
Next time, though, he hopes to be kicking balls in front of the fans, rather than just lugging them to the sideline.
Thompson, who earlier this year became the Quakes’ first Homegrown signing, has yet to make his professional debut as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery to his right knee. But with San Jose’s depleted roster leaving non-refundable tickets to Seattle in danger of being unused, the Quakes decided to bring along the 19-year-old to show him what an MLS road trip is like.
Thompson may be a highly anticipated young talent, but that doesn’t stop him from being subjected to the usual rookie treatment -- which in this instance included schlepping plenty of team equipment at the stadium and teammates’ luggage at the airport. Nevertheless, it was a thrilling trip to Century Link Field.
“It was great,” Thompson told MLSsoccer.com. “It was an unbelievable atmosphere up in Seattle. It was cool to kind of get acclimated with the team and see what it was like, traveling with the first team. ... They said close to 50,000 [in the crowd], and you can tell as soon as you walked out of that tunnel.”
Thompson could be doing that sooner rather than later. Despite an acute need in the attack due to injuries, suspensions and national-team callups, San Jose continues to bring Thompson along in a cautious fashion, wanting to ensure a full recovery.
“I think Tommy was out for five months,” Quakes coach Mark Watson said. “That’s a long time. As we’ve built him up physically, we’ve started to introduce training with the guys, and Tommy’s gotten better and stronger every day.
"I think he’s still a ways from being able to play a game, but he’s shown these past 10 days the things that we saw in him prior to us signing him as a Homegrown player. He’s got a lot of quality. He’s far from being 100 percent, but it’s very encouraging to see the progress that he’s making.”
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Thompson said the knee is still improving, bringing back more of the skills that helped him earn him Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in his lone season at Indiana.
“I feel good,” Thompson said. “I’ve been training in full for the past two weeks and as each week goes by, I get more and more confident and more ready to go. My knee feels better, and I feel sharper and more explosive each and every day. ... I’d say I’m getting there. We’ll kind of see as time goes by when I’m ready to actually get involved and hopefully make an impact.
Thompson’s internal timeline might put him on track to ease into things – relatively speaking – during the Quakes’ first match in the 2014 US Open Cup. San Jose will host either Sacramento Republic FC – the Quakes’ USL PRO affiliate – or Fresno Fuego of the PDL at San Francisco's Kezar Stadium on June 11.
“I’m hoping [to be available for play] in the next two to three weeks,” Thompson said. “Where I was two weeks before today is nowhere near as healthy as I am right now. So I’m looking to continue to progress, and I’m excited to be at 100 percent pretty soon.”