KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Michael Thomas’ European adventure is over for now, the lure of home too much to resist.
On Wednesday, Thomas sealed a long-rumored return to his hometown club after two years in Scandinavia, signing with Sporting Kansas City and joining the side’s crowded midfield. Per club policy, terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
“It was tough being so far away from family and friends, especially growing up in KC,” Thomas, who spent his first two professional seasons in Sweden with Halmstads BK and Ljungskile SK, told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Wednesday. “Having the opportunity to play in front of them has been my biggest motivation. I want to prove myself, and having that added pressure from them will help me improve as a player.”
Thomas, who grew up in nearby Olathe, Kan., will attempt to break into a young, tightly knit starting lineup. And while he has been a two-way threat up to this point in his career, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes envisions a more defensive role for the young midfielder.
“He’s still got a long way to go,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com. “We’ll have to see how he fits in with the team. But he's a pretty good ball winner, physical in the middle and covers some decent ground. Very competitive guy.”
If that sounds a lot like Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza – well, Thomas doesn’t mind being mentioned in the same sentence.
“I've seen him play a few times,” Thomas said. “I think that's a good comparison. I like to disrupt the other team's flow of play and if I get the ball, I'm good at connecting with my teammates and keeping the flow going. I hope I can bring as much to the team as he does.”
Vermes, however, cautioned against expecting the same things from Thomas right away.
“Michael is a holding guy,“ Vermes said. “Roger is a guy who goes two ways. I’m not saying Michael can’t do that, but that’s more Roger’s thing. Whether that changes? Hard to tell.”
What’s not in doubt is Thomas’ familiarity with half of Sporting KC‘s starting back four. He played club soccer with center back Matt Besler and left back Seth Sinovic in high school, then played alongside Besler at Notre Dame.
Thomas was drafted by San Jose with the 19th overall selection in the 2010 SuperDraft, but elected to try his luck in Sweden. Kansas City acquired the right of first refusal for Thomas on Tuesday for a fourth-round Supplemental Draft pick.
He had a successful tryout with Halmstads BK of the top-flight Allensvenskan, but his tenure there was short and marked by protracted wrangling over the length of his contract.
Thomas appeared in just five matches before he was let go to make room for a player from the youth squad. He then caught on with Ljungskile SK of the second-tier Superettan, scoring eight goals in 47 matches during two seasons with the club.
“That helped me grow as player and a person, getting out on my own like that,” Thomas said. “I learned a lot tactically over there, and it was important for me to gain game experience.”
As an added bonus, that experience came in a league that is similar to MLS in style, he said.
“It’s a very physical league,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of long balls, because everybody works very hard defensively. You don't get too much time to possess the ball and knock it around.”