The 23-year-old said he has been hard at work acquiring his new language skills, inspired by head coach Matias Almeyda.
“It’s actually a funny story,” Thompson responded when asked about when and how he decided to learn Spanish. “We went to Cancun for two weeks in January. We spent a lot of time together, and that was when I first heard Matias’ message of what he’s going to try and do with this team, what he’s going to try and do with this organization. After the second or third meeting he had with the team, I told myself, ‘I have to learn Spanish.’
“And so I wanted to hear it in the correct language, because I agreed with everything he was saying,” he added. “So I spent a lot of time in Duolingo, [who] just sent me an email that I spent over 100 hours on their application. I just became obsessed with it because I love the message that he is sending. I think it’s a message that professional athletes need to hear. It’s a message that fans need to hear. And it’s a message that people can take into their lives; I mean, this positivity is hard to find in this world. I was really moved by what he had to say, and I spent a lot of time studying over the next couple of months. Here I am today being able to communicate with him on the field. It all paid off.”
For many, language and cultural barriers pose as problematic, maybe even as far as annoying or a burden. But for the converted defender, who described passing up the opportunity to speak to legends of the game like Almeyda and Benjamin Galindo as “crazy,” there are more empathetic ways of approaching language and cultural diversity. The main one? Coexistence.
“We can look at it, ‘Oh, this is a huge problem. This is so difficult. How am I supposed to communicate with everybody from all these different countries?,’” Thompson said. “Or we can look at it as a gift, as an amazing opportunity to connect with people from all around the world.”
With more minutes accumulated through the first third of this season than all of 2018, Thompson has quickly emerged as a mainstay within the Argentine’s system. The Quakes’ community role model, who admits he’s found his “purpose” on and off the field, is a team veteran who has benefited from the top-down change in San Jose’s day-to-day culture and operations.
📍 Oakland, California— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 15, 2019
At the start of his career, @tomthom11 vowed to positively impact people through soccer. He's making good on that promise. // Beyond the Stands by @WellsFargo pic.twitter.com/DQvo7iD8rC
“It’s amazing,” Thompson said about the change, with an enthusiastic look on his face. “It’s incredible what they’ve done. They’re the reason why I spent the amount of time I did to pick up this language. I agree in their approach. They do an amazing job at encouraging us to be the best version of ourselves.”
“When guys make mistakes, when guys lose the ball, they don’t crucify you,” he added. “... For me, it’s the perfect balance: where you have freedom to create, but you also have an obligation to work hard. I love what they are doing.”