Jacob Peterson was something of a U.S. soccer wunderkind as a teenager.
Peterson, a Portage, Mich., native who signed Thursday with Sporting Kansas City, was impressive enough in the youth ranks to win a spot on the U.S. under-17 men’s national team. He then helped Indiana to NCAA championships in 2003 and ’04, scoring the game-winning goal and winning the Offensive MVP award as a freshman at the College Cup.
He first crossed paths with Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes during a 21-game stint with the U.S. under-20 men’s national team in 2005.
Vermes was an assistant coach for Sigi Schmid that year, and Peterson was a talented, hard-working forward who scored 12 goals, including a game-winner in group play at the World Youth Cup in Holland.
Drafted 21st overall by the Colorado Rapids in 2006, Peterson put together a solid inaugural season in MLS, scoring four goals and adding three assists in 17 starts as a rookie.
But his career seemed to bump off the tracks after that. He played 64 more games during the next three seasons with the Rapids but scored only four more goals before being traded to Toronto FC before the 2010 season.
Being moved around the field like a chess piece, Peterson played some defensive midfielder and eventually landed at right back with Toronto, where he managed only one goal in 37 appearances before he was traded to San Jose.
“Getting traded to San Jose last year, once I got there for whatever reason it didn’t work out too well,” said Peterson, now 25. “In Toronto before that, I thought I was starting to find my form a little bit, and then the trade happened. But that’s life as a professional. We’ve got to move on, and I’m excited to get started here.”
That Peterson, who managed two assists in nine games (five starts) with the Earthquakes, has talent remains undisputed.
Now, he’s hoping to show it and, in the process, reinvigorate a stalled career after reuniting with Vermes.
“If there’s anything I can do to help Jacob get back to the form that I know he has, that will be the most pleasing thing for me,” Vermes said. “I know he has qualities that not only can be successful in this league, but he can be very successful with the way we play.”
Peterson, who is expecting to play primarily on the right wing but can play any of the three spots up top in Sporting KC’s 4-3-3 system, joins an already crowded group of forwards.
Sporting KC returns two of its three leading scorers, forwards Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury, who both scored nine goals each a year ago, along with reigning MLS Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong, who finished with five goals and five assists.
The club also added Bobby Convey in a trade during the offseason to address a hole at left wing and then drafted South Florida goal machine Dom Dwyer in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft.
But Peterson provides much-needed cover for when national and Olympic team duties are expected to thin out Sporting KC’s rotation at forward during the summer.
“As an athlete, you thrive on that competition,” said Peterson, who has nine goals and 10 assists in 138 MLS appearances. “I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think I could get minutes, but I’m not a guy who’s going to be a bad guy if I’m not getting time. I’m going to push those guys that are ahead of me right now. I know I have to come in and earn their respect first and then try to beat them out.”
No one would be happier for Peterson to fulfill all that promise he showed years ago than Vermes.
“We had a good relationship,” Peterson said. “I felt like I got to know him pretty well and he got to know me, so I’m sure that was a factor in my coming here. I hope I can repay him for having that faith in me with my work on the field.”