BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Judging by his off-field personality, Wells Thompson is quite possibly MLS' most unlikely enforcer. But teammate Patrick Nyarko said that's exactly what he has become for the Chicago Fire.
Off the field, Thompson is affable, friendly, and outspoken about his religious beliefs. On the field, he's been red-carded in consecutive matches, a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew and a Reserve League game against FC Dallas, and has shown he isn't afraid of confrontation.
“He's such a nice guy, I don't know how he gets red cards,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com with a smile. “That's his passion for the game, he always goes 100 percent. … He gives us that bite that we feel like we're missing. We need to have an enforcer of some sort who plays, not dirty, but hard and he gives us that.”
In fact, Nyarko has first-hand experience with Thompson's fiery nature. In a US Open Cup game, when Thompson played for the Colorado Rapids, the two engaged in a shoving match after Thompson tried to slow one of his runs.
A former hockey player, Thompson says confrontation fires him up.
“My father said my ice hockey game has kind of transitioned into my soccer game," he told MLSsoccer.com. "I spent most of my time in the penalty box. It kind of gets me into the game, a little more focused. The best kind of thing is for me to get laid out in the first couple minutes of a game, then I'm ready to go.”
While Thompson gives Chicago a sense of toughness that they may have been lacking, the willingness to go in on hard challenges has also set his team back. He was retroactively given a red card after the Fire's game against Columbus two weeks ago, and head coach Frank Klopas was forced to shake up his lineup, moving midfielder Logan Pause to right back, a move that appeared to hurt the Fire in a 2-0 loss to the Montreal Impact.
His teammates and coaches certainly don't want him play with less intensity, but suspensions are unwelcome for a depleted backline.
“He plays with a lot of passion and a lot of emotion,” Pause told MLSsoccer.com. “Those are things that we definitely need to be smart about and not be reckless, but to tell him not to play hard and play with passion, I don't think anyone's going to say anything about that.”
His on-field nature has drawn notice from Fire fans, who nicknamed him “El Diablo.”
In a move that won't surprise his teammates or Twitter followers, Thompson related the nickname to his religious beliefs.
“I like to think of it as King David in the Bible,” Thompson said. “The little shepherd boy, a guy no one ever thought would do everything, and he ends up slaying Goliath and he becomes King David, a man after God's heart, so I like to think of it more like that.
"So every time I think of 'El Diablo,' I like to think of King David.”