U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team forward Tommy Thompson has soccer in his DNA.
Along with their father, Gregg, who played for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 1980s, brothers Tyler, Tanner and Tommy Thompson – all one year apart – could never get enough of the sport.
As youngsters, Dad didn’t just support the brothers from the sidelines – he was also on the field. The four would go early to practices and play 2-vs.-2 and then each of the boys would participate in the other team’s practices. Oftentimes, they’d train three times a day.
Now 19, Tommy is walking much the same path his father took some 30 years ago.
In 1982, Gregg co-captained Indiana University to its first NCAA title. He went on to have a seven-year professional career and also represent the United States at the 1984 Olympics and in a number of World Cup qualifiers.
While Tommy also went to Indiana, became a pro and is currently representing the U.S. at the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, it’s happened to him by chance.
“It all just kind of came naturally,” Tommy said of his early success in soccer. “My dad was never one of those dads that forced his kids to become a professional.”
Tommy recalls the time when he was 10 years old; he and his brothers were coming home from practice talking about dreams they had to play for clubs such as Manchester United and Real Madrid.
“We didn’t understand how hard that really is,” Tommy said. “I remember my dad said, ‘Look, if you want to be a professional, I can show you the way. I’m not going to force you to do it, but it’s going to be hard work.’
“And ever since then we followed the path that he laid out for us. It got me to where I am today, and it got my brothers to where they are today, playing for some of the top programs in the country.”
Growing up, the boys – and their younger sister, Tatum – knew of their dad’s soccer legacy through the clippings and photos in the house. A standout high school football and soccer player, Gregg had turned down a football scholarship to Wisconsin and instead accepted an offer to play soccer at Indiana. He would go on to co-captain the Hoosiers to the 1982 NCAA title, scoring both goals as Indiana defeated Duke 2-1 after eight overtimes.
The following year, Gregg was the first pick in the NASL Draft by the Tampa Bay Rowdies and went on to become the NASL Rookie of the Year. That success led him to make the U.S. Men’s National Team and wear the red, white and blue at the 1994 Olympics in Los Angeles, where he played all three games for the U.S. and scored a goal against Egypt.
One of his teammates on the National Team was current U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos.
“I played with Tommy’s dad in the early ’80s,” Ramos said. “I don’t even know if he’d remember me; I was a really young guy on the Olympic team back then and he was playing for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. He was a skillful left back and a good player.”
Gregg continued with the U.S. program through 1985, earning a total of 12 senior caps including appearing in four World Cup Qualifiers as the U.S. failed to advance to the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
Tommy and Tanner played for their dad at the California Development Academy. Tyler was on an older-aged CDA team. On one occasion, the younger brothers got called up to join Tyler for the CDA team’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes U-18 side. The younger brothers entered at halftime and caught the eye of the Quakes staff.
Shortly after, the pro side asked both of them to train with the club in San Jose. Tommy joined the Quakes U-18s at the SUM Cup and made a handful of appearances for the Reserve Team.
Tommy wasn’t heavily recruited by colleges outside California, but he caught the eye of Indiana scouts while playing for his club team, PAC Tigres, at the prestigious Dallas Cup.
“I remember one day my dad texted me while I was in high school and he said, ‘Indiana offered you a scholarship,’” Tommy said. “It wasn’t planned, but that was the moment when things started to come together.”
By then, Tyler had begun his collegiate career at Stanford, and Tanner had already committed to play for Indiana. Tommy followed, finishing high school in three years in order to join Tanner at Indiana for their freshman season in 2013.
Coincidently, the two brothers played for Indiana’s Todd Yeagley, the son of Jerry Yeagley, who had coached Gregg during his collegiate days.
Todd Yeagley sensed Tommy had a special talent. He called Ramos to let the U.S. coach know about the young attacking player.
“I remember watching Tommy and thinking, ‘Wow, he’s just relentless!’ He works so hard. He tries to win games and make plays,” Ramos said. “I remember thinking that’s the kind of player that I really like. So immediately after watching him play one time for Indiana, I decided I have to bring him in.”
Tommy’s first invite came in January of 2014, the same month that the San Jose Earthquakes made him an offer to become the first homegrown player in the history of the club.
“That was one of the harder decisions of my life, because I loved it so much at Indiana,” Tommy said. “I loved the facilities, the staff, the players – everything was great. Things were going well for me; I was playing well. Eventually the opportunity became too great to pass up.”
Although an injury kept him from joining that first U.S. U-20 camp, Ramos kept tabs on Tommy after his recovery as he played regularly for the Quakes USL PRO affiliate, Sacramento Republic FC.
On July 16, 2014, Tommy made his first international appearance for his country when he helped the U-20 MNT defeat Bermuda 4-0 in Carson, California.
“I look back and it’s funny to visualize what my dad went through playing in the ’84 Olympics in the United States,” Tommy said. “I’m getting a little bit of a taste of it, because this is my first year, really, with the U.S. Soccer program. But, I don’t put a ton of pressure on myself because he was able to do it or anything like that. I’m just living my own life and I hope to experience the amount of success that he did.”
It’s been a fast rise for the 5-foot-7 forward, and his ceiling is high.
“Tommy is one of those players that when we put the team together, and you have to decide to put Tommy in a certain position. You have to think of the freedom he needs to play, because Tommy’s one of those you players that you can’t limit,” Ramos said. “You can’t tell him, ‘You have to do this and only this.’ I have to give him the room to think and to create his own game within the framework of the team. There are very few players that you can treat that way, but he’s certainly one of them.”
Now, Tommy finds himself trying to help the U.S. Under-20s navigate the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Jamaica, in order to qualify for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
“It’s a huge responsibility, and Tab’s hit on that,” Tommy said. “As a U-20 player, you want to build on what the players did before you. I plan to do that. We hit a little bit of a rough patch here, but we need to look forward. It’s still very doable to get to that World Cup. I think we will.”
It’s not been easy, as his dad told him. And Tommy doesn’t take any of it for granted.
“There’s always a ton of pride when you pull on that jersey and you see the U.S. crest across your chest,” he says. “And it’s cool that my dad was able to experience that as well. It’s an honor.”
Having reached this stage in his young career, Tommy now has a bigger dream, and he knows this one won’t be easy, either.
“I think everyone on this team will tell you that their ultimate goal is to get to a World Cup with the senior team,” he said. “That is my goal, too. But, I know I have a ton of work to do, and I’m ready to get to it.”