In some ways, Michael Thomas is glad the San Jose Earthquakes drafted him in the second round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, one pick before he otherwise might have been selected by his hometown club.
Thomas, 24, grew up a Kansas City Wizards fan in Olathe, but he’d always dreamed of playing overseas during his days at St. Thomas Aquinas, where he graduated in 2006 before moving on to Notre Dame.
“I have no idea what I would have done if Kansas City drafted me,” Thomas said. “I can’t even imagine, but it would have been much harder to go overseas.”
Thomas, though flattered by San Jose’s interest, chose to sign with Halmstads BK in Sweden’s top division. He moved to Ljungskile SK in Sweden’s second division, six months later.
“The most important thing for me was to get a lot of playing time over there in Sweden,” Thomas said. “It really helped my confidence. Some guys come into MLS and don’t play their first couple years, but luckily I got the chance to play there and I learned a lot technically and tactically. I also learned how to be a true professional.”
Of course, among the first people he talked to when he decided to return stateside last fall and pursue and MLS career was fellow Kansas City native and former Fighting Irish teammate Matt Besler, who starts at centerback for Sporting Kansas City.
The two were reunited in January when Sporting KC acquired Thomas’ rights from San Jose, giving Sporting KC three homegrown players, including starting left back Seth Sinovic, among its defensive core.
Thomas plays defensive midfielder in Sporting KC’s 4-3-3 formation but believes he is a solid attacking presence as well.
“I’m a player who is good on the ball and knows how to keep things simple and calm things down,” Thomas said. “Every team needs guys who read the game well, and I think I bring that to Sporting KC.”
Of course, joining the club and earning time in a crowded midfield proved be another task entirely.
But Thomas didn’t pout, and his patience was rewarded with appearances in Sporting KC’s last three matches.
He started and went the distance June 20 in a 1-1 draw at Seattle before entering as a second-half sub three days later at Philadelphia.
“It’s always tough when you’re not playing,” Thomas admitted. “Every athlete gets a little frustrated when they don’t get on the field as much as they can or want to, but at the same time Peter (Vermes) and all the coaches have been very good at giving all the guys chances and keeping us motivated. We all have a part to play, and I knew being patient was something I would have to do coming back.”
While he thoroughly enjoyed his MLS debut at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, the bigger thrill came when Thomas made his debut Tuesday at Livestrong Sporting Park in a 3-0 win against the Dayton Dutch Lions in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“Honestly, after playing in Seattle, that was a great atmosphere to start my MLS career, but I’ve been eager to finally step into the field at Livestrong,” said Thomas, who estimated that 20 family members were on hand for the Dayton game. “I got a little taste of it last year after I came back from Sweden, but it was amazing to finally be out there and hear the Cauldron singing.”
His unbridled joy was captured by the goal camera after C.J. Sapong’s second goal Tuesday. Thomas can be seen running into frame and striking a flex pose for the jubilant fans.
“I give that celebration a solid 8 1/2,” Thomas said. “I was going to stand there longer and go crazy, but since I was right in front of the other team’s goal I didn’t want to be disrespectful. But the biggest thrill was just being able to finally get out there and show everybody what I’m made of and contribute to some wins for this team.”