SAN JOSE, Calif. – When the San Jose Earthquakes’ Tommy Thompson took part in an on-field, pre-match interview before the Quakes hosted the Portland Timbers on Saturday, his team was coming off a comprehensive shellacking at the hands of LAFC the previous weekend, the last – and unquestionably worst – of four straight losses to open the Matias Almeyda era at Avaya Stadium.
So Thompson’s 15-second, mic-drop sound bite might have sounded like so much misplaced confidence – right up until the moment the Quakes scored three times inside 20 first-half minutes en route to a 3-0 victory over the Timbers.
“That’s why I said it when I did, because I want people to know that, yeah, we just lost 5-0 [to LAFC], and it was embarrassing, but today is a new day and I’m ready to go again,” Thompson told MLSsoccer.com this week about his strident message of belief on live TV. “For me, that’s always the most important thing.”
Thompson described the LAFC match as “one of the worst losses in my career,” and said his answer came as a response to San Jose supporters’ palpable discontent.
“I felt what the fans were going through,” he said. “I could feel the disappointment in the stadium against LAFC. I could feel it from the fans, I could feel it from my teammates, I could feel it from the coaches. It sparked something inside of me where I wanted to send a message to let everybody know that we might get beat, but it’s going to be different, our response is going to be different.”
Teammate Shea Salinas called the moment “prophetic.”
“I love the confidence,” Salinas said. “I think he’s just echoing what we’ve been talking about in the locker room. It was bold to say it on camera and it was nice that the team came through.”
Thompson has reason to be emboldened in 2019. After seeing his midfield playing time shrink last season, the former attacker was recast by Almeyda as a right back – and has taken the spot of US national team member Nick Lima.
When’s the last time he played right back for any significant period?
“Never,” Thompson said, laughing before turning serious. “Matias is an unbelievable coach, and he’s shown what he can do, in the past, as a player and as a coach. So if somebody like that comes up to me in preseason and says, ‘I think this is a position that suits you,’ I know it’s a position that suits me – even if I’ve never played there before.”
It helps that Thompson is not having to pick up the intricacies of playing right back in a classic two-banks-of-four zonal system. Instead, his defensive responsibilities consist of the same kind of one-on-one battles that every Quake is learning to love under Almeyda’s guidance.
“This system, there’s no hiding, and I like that,” Thompson said. “For me, my matchup was against [Sebastian] Blanco, and you can’t hide from that. You’re going to find out who’s winning. Sometimes maybe I win, sometimes he wins, but we’re going one-on-one, and it’s going to be a battle.
“It’s not man-marking always, because of course I can’t trace somebody all the way across the field, but I’m going to take pride in my matchup, and I think a lot of guys are taking pride in seeing how exciting that mindset can be.”