SAN JOSE, Calif. – Following a fourth straight season of failing to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs, the San Jose Earthquakes knew they needed to turn a new leaf in 2017. And while the team did look for help outside of MLS, their best signing of the offseason may be the one they made from within.
In December, the Quakes signed former academy defender Nick Lima to a Homegrown Player contract, and since taking on the role of right back, he has impressed coaches and teammates alike. The rookie turned heads in in his first professional appearance Saturday, shutting down star attacker Ignacio Piatti to help San Jose to a 1-0 season-opening win against Montreal. For his efforts, Lima was named to the MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week, along with Florian Jungwirth and Anibal Godoy.
“You want a guy to thrive and succeed on his debut,” said San Jose head coach Dom Kinnear. “And to step out on the field with the spotlight as bright as it was, Nick came through with passing marks.”
He was joined on the right side of the field on Saturday by midfielder Tommy Thompson, the only other Homegrown signing in Quakes history.
“Nick is a great player,” said Thompson. “He likes to keep the ball on the ground and it helps me because he always looks to combine, which is something I love doing as well. We have great chemistry, and I look forward to playing in future games with him this year.”
Thompson is starting his fourth season as a professional, and though he has yet to score his first MLS goal, he looks poised to breakthrough in short order. He had two golden scoring opportunities against Montreal, chances he admitted he needed to finish, but the 21-year-old sees better days ahead.
“I’ve played almost 50 games in MLS, so I came into the season knowing what I wanted to do,” said Thompson. “I’ve been here before, and I’m ready to go.”
Despite being a year older than Thompson at 22, Lima is just embarking on his professional career. And even though he’s just one game in, the Cal product is already receiving some heady praise from Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski.
“To a man in this locker room, everyone believes in Nick,” said Wondolowski. “I have him on the shortlist for Rookie of the Year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the [US men’s national team’s] January camp next year.”
Kinnear agreed with his captain, adding that Lima and Thompson together played better than he expected. It’s still early, but having both of their Homegrowns starting the season opener and shutting down Piatti, Matteo Mancosu and the rest of the talented Impact attack was a promising sign for a Quakes academy looking to become the conduit to the first-team that other MLS clubs enjoy.
“The talent in this region is very strong,” said team president Dave Kaval. “We just need to make sure we attract it to the Quakes, so that we can have not two players starting from our academy in three or four years, but four or five, because that is going to be our competitive advantage as a club.”