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Q&A: San Jose Earthquakes Defender/Midfielder Tommy Thompson

Note: NorCal Premier Soccer regularly sits down with an influential figure in the youth soccer landscape to pick their brain about a variety of different topics that are relevant in the current soccer environment in the United States. For this edition we spoke with San Jose Earthquakes defender and midfielder Tommy Thompson. A PDP and Blues FC alum, Thompson signed with San Jose as a homegrown player in 2014 after playing one year for Indiana University. Since signing, the former U.S. Youth National Teamer has gone on to make 128 MLS appearances for the club. In his free time, he posts training videos for kids to his YouTube account.

NorCal: The MLS is Back Tournament must have been a strange experience, what was it like playing in that tournament with everything that’s been going on in the world?

Thompson: I’m really grateful that Don Garber and the rest of Major League Soccer were able to make it happen because as a team we were in a really difficult spot before the tournament. We were the last team that was able to train and to go three months as a professional athlete without being able to use your team’s facilities, without being able to be in an environment with your teammates, it was brutal. We were desperate to play, we were desperate to compete and MLS was able to come up with a great solution to a really complicated problem. We were happy, we were excited, we were the first team in Florida because we flew in to be able to train as a team and once that whole process started, it just felt great to be working towards a goal again and to be able to compete again. It was a good feeling.

NorCal: During that three months where you weren’t able to see each other, were you staying in contact with your teammates? Were you on a fitness program? What was going on when you guys were isolated from each other?

Thompson: Every week we would receive a fitness packet to make sure that we were ready to go if the season did resume, but for a long time we didn’t know if the season was even going to happen. There was a lot of uncertainty, but we continued to work out just in case and we wanted to be ready if something did happen. Fortunately for us, the tournament got organized and we were ready to go and I think it showed.

NorCal: During that time off, did you learn anything new about yourself or pick up any new hobbies? What did you do to keep busy?

Thompson: I created a YouTube Channel and this allowed me to have time to put a lot of effort into that. I knew that kids were going to be stuck in quarantine so my dad and I came up with the idea to create a quarantine skills curriculum and initially it started out with just a couple of skills challenges on Twitter and Instagram, but the first skills challenge I posted on Twitter got around 200,000 views in a day so in that moment it was clear that kids were going to need ideas on how to keep getting better. My mission throughout the whole quarantine period was to try and inspire kids to improve despite the difficult situation. With soccer all you need is a ball and a little bit of space to get better, especially at the younger ages so we came up with all kinds of drills to do and the kids got to check out the YouTube channel for free and then set up their own skills curriculum. It actually ended up being really cool because then it developed into an online training program where I was able to coach kids and clubs across the country. I coached over 60 different teams in 10 different states. It was probably over 2,000 kids that I was able to coach using Zoom, which was awesome.

NorCal: Is this something that you’d like to continue to do, even after things return to normal?

Thompson: Yeah, absolutely. I did it in Orlando as well, there were a number of teams I coached while there as well. In some of these sessions, there are 50 kids on at one time so there’s a pretty amazing concept that I don’t think had ever been done before, but I think that is one of the silver linings of the pandemic, that it’s opened people’s eyes to technology and how it can be used.

NorCal: Did you have any reservations about the MLS is Back Tournament taking place? Were guys worried about the situation?

Thompson: Some of the players across Major League Soccer were very concerned, some guys weren’t concerned, some guys just wanted to play regardless of the situation. My mindset was that there was going to be a lot of risk no matter what we did. Whether I’m in San Jose or Dallas or Nashville, or going to the grocery store, going to the park, doing anything…anything can happen. So my mindset was that there’s risk here in San Jose and I’m not doing anything so I was much more comfortable going to a bubble because I knew that it was going to be the safest place to be. People were monitored and tested consistently. Not everybody had that mindset, but I had a lot of faith in the solution that the league came up with. Fortunately enough, it transpired exactly as we wanted and the issues that happened at the beginning were a result of guys bringing the virus in from their market and I think that further proves that training in your own market was much more dangerous than being in the bubble itself so I was happy to be in Florida.

NorCal: You guys went on a great run to the quarterfinals while sticking to the attacking philosophies of head coach Matias Almeyda. What’s it like playing a brand of soccer that a lot of teams are afraid to play in the modern game?

Thompson: It’s refreshing, I think it’s a really entertaining style of soccer. To be a part of an organization and with a coach that has so much belief in his players, is refreshing for me. There have been a number of years where I wasn’t playing in a system like that. I’m an attacking player. Obviously I’m playing right back now — I definitely do have a defensive side to my game — but I love to attack, I love to put teams on their back foot. That’s what I’ve been doing since I was 10-years-old so to now be in a situation to apply that same mentality at the professional level is exciting. You can see the belief in the group, you can see the belief from our coaching staff. It’s a special team to be a part of.

NorCal: MLS play starts back up for you guys on August 26th. What are the goals for you for the rest of the season?

Thompson: I want to make as big of an impact as I can. Matias always says that every person needs to bring their grain of sand to the locker room so I want to continue to bring in my grain of sand and help this group maximize their potential because I believe that the best is yet to come. In Orlando there was a taste of what this group is capable of and I’m excited because I think, like I said, the best is yet to come.