Growing up as a fan of Liverpool in the English Premier League, Michael Thomas dreamed of playing professional soccer overseas.
Through his high school career at St. Thomas Aquinas, which included three Kansas state championships, to his time at Notre Dame alongside Sporting Kansas City central defender Matt Besler for three seasons, that desire didn’t dissipate.
Even being drafted 19th overall in 2010 by the San Jose Earthquakes in the second round of the MLS SuperDraft wasn’t enough incentive to keep Thomas stateside. He spent the last two seasons with Ljungskile SK in the Swedish first division.
But Thomas is coming home, rejoining Besler and bolstering the midfield for Sporting KC, the reigning Eastern Conference regular-season champion.
“I’ve had two very good years overseas, but Sporting KC and just the MLS in general is a step up from where I was I believe,” Thomas said. “And it is the right step for me to take.”
The long-rumored acquisition became official Wednesday, when Thomas’ contract was approved by the league office.
Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said the club had considered drafting Thomas in 2010, but he went off the board one spot before the club’s second-round selection, which instead was used to add defender Korede Aiyegbusi.
Thomas’ work rate and versatility make him a fit for Vermes’ attacking 4-3-3 style.
“We had him for a very short time at the end of the season, but he’s got qualities of being able to recover the ball,” Vermes said. “He’s pretty tenacious defensively and he sees the field well.”
Sporting KC acquired the rights to Thomas, 23, an Olathe native, Tuesday from the Earthquakes in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the MLS supplemental draft.
He joins a midfield that includes incumbent starters Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi, the reigning MLS Breakout Player of the Year, and recently added veteran Brazilian midfielder Paulo Nagamura, who arrived in an offseason trade.
“Words can’t explain how great it feels, because I grew up supporting the team,” said Thomas, who scored 19 goals with 13 assists in 81 games for the Fighting Irish.
Thomas and Besler have remained close since their days at Notre Dame, talking every few weeks even though an ocean apart.
“Anytime you can reacquaint yourself with an old teammate and old friend, it’s obviously great,” Besler said. “But more importantly, he is going to fit really well into this team and be a big part of it and help us win. That’s the No. 1 thing.”
It’s the top priority for Thomas as well.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Thomas said. “Getting to know Bes, we had a great friendship at Notre Dame, and he’s one of my best friends. I’ve kept tabs on how he has done and it definitely motivates me, too, because I see a hometown guy helping his hometown team succeed.”