There have been a lot of dreams coming true at BMO Field this season.
A few weeks ago it was Luca Petrasso who made his first start for his hometown side; against NYCFC it was Kosi Thompson’s turn as the 19-year-old was inserted into the starting XI on Saturday.
“A lot of kids dream to be in the position that I'm in as a young player and have the chance to start and prove myself and continue to prove myself,” said Thompson post-match. “The emotion is undescribable, undescribable. That's the best way I can put it.”
Having gotten a taste of MLS action in a pair of appearances off the bench in recent weeks, Thompson was ready.
“Kosi did really well,” said TFC Head Coach and Sporting Director Bob Bradley. “From the beginning of the year, he made a positive impression. A young guy, but smart, picks up things very quickly. He comes in every day with a really good mentality, trains well.”
“He's earned the respect of everybody and in his first start today you saw all of that,” he continued, detailing how he adapted to the multitude of threats NYCFC throw out there. “Athletically, his ability to deal with some talented attackers. In all ways, for a first game, he showed confidence and he played really well.”
It was nearly a calamitous start as the referee pointed to the penalty spot in the 8th minute after Thompson and Talles Magno appeared to get tangled at the top of the box, but video review saw the decision overturned in the moment.
Thompson dusted himself off and refocused: “That's the game of football.”
“You take it with a grain of salt, it gets overturned. You dwell on it too much, it'll leach into your game, so after I saw that it was overturned, let it go, that's done, move forward and that's what I did,” he explained. “Mentally, I stayed positive and pushed forward, forgot about it and played well for the rest of the game.”
And grow into the game he did.
“First 5-10 minutes, first start, you try to go out there with confidence – obviously, you're not going to have it right from the beginning, your confidence needs to be backed with how you're playing,” Thompson laid out. “As I started getting more touches on the ball my confidence grew and grew and grew. And then it was at that point where I didn't need to worry about confidence anymore. I just knew it was there and I played the rest of the game how I play.”
Normally a midfielder, injuries saw Thompson drafted into a somewhat unfamiliar role at right-back. He leaned on the messaging the coaching staff bombarded him with in the build-up.
“Throughout the international period I was put out as a right wing-back, Bob was telling me to really play with confidence going forward,” the 19-year-old relayed. “Yes, I have defensive responsibilities, but really play with confidence going forward, look inside as that's our identity. I knew what he wanted at a tactical standpoint and so the advice I heard from all the coaching staff was ‘confidence,’ ‘fearless,’ so I took that and carried it into the game with me.”
And when a moment to implement that presented itself, Thompson took it face-forward leading to the opening goal from Jesús Jiménez. Arriving on the ball near the midway line space appeared in front of him.
“I wouldn’t say surprised, but I received the ball and there's a lot of space so I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to carry it a bit,’” he recounted. “I saw the gaps open up and then quickly they closed, so I had to think on my feet, took a couple more touches and as you're moving you're going to see gaps open up.”
“It was good movement from Ale, so I slipped it to him,” Thompson continued. “And then obviously a great connection between Ale and Oso and then from Oso to Jesús and the ball is in the back of the net.”
Focused throughout the 90, it can be easy to forget to soak in the moment.
“Yeah, after that final whistle,” replied Thompson, asked if he had allowed himself to do so. “I had family and friends here today. After I heard that final whistle I was able to take in really what I just accomplished. It's a great milestone for me. I was able to take in where I am, who is around me, the atmosphere, everything, everything.”
It’s been interesting watching TFC this season, not just for the fact that so many young players have been given the chance to show what they can do, but for the environment that has been created around them.
In the pressure of professional sports it is not uncommon for teammates to remonstrate with each other when a play doesn’t come off or a pass isn’t made.
Against NYCFC on Saturday, it was far more common to see guys urging each other on.
When Jonathan Osorio went for an audacious attempt on the turn from the top of the box, Michael Bradley applauded the intent. When Luca Petrasso didn’t see Jiménez streaking up the opposite flank on the break, it was pointed out to him, but without recrimination.
That is the sort of environment within which young talent can flourish. And flourish it has.
“We’re at that point where if you're good enough you're going to play, if you're performing well you're going to play,” said Thompson. “Bob doesn't really care if you're young, if you're 18/19, if you're 45, he doesn't care. If you're playing well you're going to play.”
“And he trusts us, that's the biggest thing,” he added. “He really does trust us and we need to trust ourselves. The atmosphere for young guys is amazing; the atmosphere for everyone is amazing.”