Welcome to the Wednesday Q&A series, where we focus on one particular topic – today's being the growth of Tommy Thompson – and ask you to react, share, and discuss in the comments section. However, feel free to ask about anything game-related (MLS, USL, NASL, USMNT, CanMNT, etc.) over the next several hours.
First, let's take a minute and remember why everybody's excited about San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Tommy Thompson. Let's remember why the HypeTrain exists in the first place:
Mmm... yes. Damn good stuff.
That above clip is from a couple of weeks ago in San Jose's 1-1 draw against D.C. United, and it features the signature fancy footwork that's made Thompson, a 20-year-old midfielder, a favorite of aesthetes and neutrals around the league. He effortlessly avoids a slide-tackle from Patrick Nyarko; he avoids pressure on one side from Fabian Espindola and on the other from Sean Franklin; he dribbles the ball into the middle of five opponents, and comes out on the other side intact.
There aren't many Americans or Canadians who can do that, not many who are as comfortable with the ball in tight spots. Thompson is a trickfoot artist produced by a soccer culture that has traditionally valued, um, other things.
Three more points I want to make about the above clip, two little things that signal Thompson's evolution from "kid with potential" into "very good soccer player."
• The very first thing he does in the clip is check over both shoulders. He knows he's in a spot where, if he receives a pass, pressure's going to come. So he makes certain he knows where it'll be coming from, and then puts that knowledge to use with his first touch -- away from the immediate pressure of Espindola.
• Upon gaining possession, he doesn't just kick it into high gear. Instead he slows down to draw Espindola in, then creates immediate separation with a small burst. In our game, change-of-pace is often as important as pace itself.
• And finally, just before playing the pass that ends the sequence, he picks his head up and surveys the field, then makes the right decision. Steve Birnbaum does just enough to disrupt the play, but Thompson got the ball in a tough spot then made a packed-in, organized defense sweat.
That is good soccer. This is also progress from a kid who still struggles to complete plays, but is figuring out how to make himself an asset anyway, and has earned the trust of his coach and, presumably, his teammates.
Thompson, despite the clip above, isn't playing as an attacker in 2016. For the bulk of his 213 minutes on the field this year he's been a box-to-box central midfielder in a bog-standard 4-4-2, filling in for the injured Anibal Godoy. With a central role has come more responsibility and a usage rate that's almost doubled, as Thompson's moved from 6.57% last year to 11.33% this season.
The Quakes are, in other words, getting him more of the ball, and he's doing more and better things with it. His passing map from this past weekend's draw at Dallas shows as much:
This may not be the epoch-defining leap some have hoped for, but I don't really care about hopes when it comes to young players: I care about reality. And the reality is that Tommy Thompson has turned himself into a good, responsible soccer player at the age of 20, someone his team trusts to do a hard and mostly thankless job. In the process he's showing the signs -- field awareness and decision-making -- that suggest "good and responsible" is the floor, rather than the ceiling.
That's not hype. That's a real reason to be excited.
Thompson and the Quakes are in action tonight (10:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE) when they host the Red Bulls.
Ok folks, thanks for keeping me company ahead of tonight's games. Enjoy all the action!