It’s typical - seeing people the way you first perceive them to be, always. It takes on other forms: typecasting, labeling, gender roles… Roger Moore as 007. George Harrison as the “quiet” Beatle. Who does the grocery shopping.
For Sporting Kansas City’s Erik Thommy, the clean-cut midfielder, with his perfect posture; his steely, almost piercing glare in the team photo; and his sleek good looks, is seen as the straight man to Willy Agada’s joyous fervor, the somewhat stodgy Rob McElhenney to his goofy, happy-go-lucky, Wrexham A.F.C. co-owner Ryan Reynolds.
And responses like this to the question of what Sporting fans can expect from Thommy this season show his all-business side:
“It’s all about the team, not about me. It is Sporting KC, and I am part of it. My job is to help the team in every game, to be the best Erik Thommy on and off the pitch, to help the team with goals and assists.”
The direct and steady vocal delivery furthers people’s perception of the German native, who, along with his fellow late-July arrival, Agada, won Sporting’s Co-Newcomer of the Year in 2022.
But just as McElhenney stars in two comedy series – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Mythic Quest – Thommy has a jovial and outgoing nature that is ready to blossom during year two in Kansas City, a season in which Tommy has one clear goal.
Welcome to “Year two with …”, a short series of articles focused on those players who will begin their second season with Sporting Kansas City in 2023. What knowledge can broaden our understanding of this player? From what perspectives is the player entering the new season? What makes this person tick? How does he look back on year one? And what can we expect from him in 2023? Each article will have its story basis and some quick-hit facts and details.
OMG, Erik Thommy!— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 7, 2022
The touch and finish for one of the best goals this season! pic.twitter.com/f9P3kBHJu9
The above goal was Thommy announcing his presence in MLS, and, better yet, his arrival in Kansas City for a team that needed the biggest of lifts after only five wins by this August 6th home match v. Los Angeles Galaxy. After, he broke out his archery-themed celebration, showing at once his confidence and playfulness. One had to wonder what else he had in his quiver… would he be The Green Arrow of the real Gateway to the West?
The 5’9”, 159lbs, Thommy ended the season with three goals and two assists in 887 minutes, helping Kansas City close the season with six wins and two draws in its last 10 matches. A deeper dive blows the mind: Thommy finished with 22 key passes, or 2.23 per 90 minutes, which dwarfed fellow midfielders Felipe Hernandez (1.36) and Remi Walter (.99). Furthermore, the 28-year-old had the 2nd highest completed pass rate with 88.3%, behind only foundational midfielder Walter.
Yet, with a 12th place finish in MLS’’s Western Conference, Sporting and Thommy faced an early offseason. Thommy stated with a chuckle that the two-and-a-half months was “the longest vacation I have had in my career.”
During our recent phone interview, I asked, “What is more challenging, getting the mind or the body back to fitness?”
“Of course, it is hard to get into the rhythm again, to get used to long and hard training sessions. That is a fitness problem, but everyone knows that we have to switch between hard and light sessions,” he stated. “The mind is almost always firing. Everyone wants to be successful this season, to do better.”
A fitness problem. Thommy knows about those. Thanks to The Blue Testament’s Josh Wallace, we have a breakdown of the injuries – some incidental, some structural – that have, at times, derailed Thommy’s career.
“I had my Bundesliga debut with FC Augsburg [in 2014 at age 19]. As a young player, everything goes the right way,” said Tommy. “Then I had a couple of years, which were a little tougher. I had some injuries, and sometimes you don’t play.
For such a young player, struggles lead to questions, mainly questioning oneself and if football is the way.
“I started to learn more about football. I had a lot of trainers who helped me in that time. And that is why I am now Erik Thommy. That guy who knows what to do, that I have to train hard, have to be, on and off the pitch, very professional to play at the highest level. In the last couple of years, I learned a lot from them and from my bad situation.”
The defining moments, learned from athletic trainers (the bartenders of sports), came from listening, from conversation. The knowledge was, clearly, critical. Now, Thommy has the carefree side, tempered by experiential lessons. Now, he is the consummate professional.
Thus, when a new setting beckoned, Thommy arrived in Kansas City and spilled out his class everywhere.
“What the Bundesliga veteran has brought to Sporting’s midfield is direction… Numerous times one can see Thommy directing traffic with his motions and guiding his teammates, and his desire to be successful is contagious. That leadership (One could label it stability.) is [complementary] to the vocal leadership [Roger] Espinoza provides and the leadership by example that is Remi Walter” from my article entitled “Revelations from season trends and More Reflections from Sporting KC’s win over LA Galaxy”.
That swerving arrow was Thommy’s second goal. It came in a 4-1 home thrashing of Portland Timbers, the same side who had trashed Sporting 7-2 in May. Thommy, on the run, is canting his body to launch not a “jar-licker” or a liner (which would have been enough to draw admiration), but a bullseye. Such play saw Thommy placed on the MLS Team of the Week twice in the last few weeks of the season.
“But that was last year,” Thommy stated of his goals and the team finishing strongly.
“This year is going to be different. We start from zero. That is why we have to do our work, prepare now for the upcoming season. It’s nice to know that we were good last season at the end, but everyone knows we have to prepare again and be our best.”
Sporting were not at their best in a 4-3 loss at Austin FC on August 13. Thommy and his teammates had taken a 3-1 lead in the first half, only to relinquish via three second half goals allowed. Overall, the central midfielder’s defensive stats did not come up to the standards of his others. A 49.1% of duels won (8th amongst SKC “starters”) and three tackles in his 887 minutes.
When asked what can be done to solidify Sporting’s transition defense, Thommy gave an answer many will applaud and may have been said with a rather large wink.
“At times, we have received too many goals, too easy of goals. But on the other side, we have to say, ‘Ok, in that case, maybe we have to score more and then we get the pressure out of our box.’ There are a few things you can change, small things, and you receive less goals and you score more goals. Small things in football can decide games. That is why there is not only one answer.”
And there is not only one answer to what makes Erik Thommy tick, despite his seeming outward appearance.
“The most important thing is that I have fun with the game, and that I have fun with my teammates and that I am successful with my teammates,” revealed Thommy when asked what we can expect from him this new season. “In that case, I have to say that I’m very happy that I am here.”
His affable personality. His love for goals. His celebration. His values. His fun.
That admirable mix is part of the reason The Cauldron (Sporting’s largest and most diverse supporter’s section) chose Thommy to feature in their “We’ll Be Back” tifo display before the last home match.
There, he may have been The Terminator. But, perhaps, if not The Green Arrow, Erik Thommy is Sporting’s Hawkeye of the Heartland.
This time, Hawkeye’s goal is not defeating myriad enemies. It is singular.
“That we play good football. That we play successful football,” Thommy said of expectations for his team, before getting specific. “My goal is for the team to reach the playoffs; then we will see… After, we will make new plans.”
For Year Two, Thommy is focused. Year Two will see a more comfortable Thommy, one who can more express who he is. Who he is now is enough, but so much more can be found within Thommy and in the last word he gave in reference to Sporting’s addition of German left back Tim Leibold:
“Hopefully, he will arrive safely. We are happy [he is joining our side], and we will help him. …He is a good player. I played against him. I do not know him personally, but I’ve heard only good things of him. We will welcome him; we will find a restaurant. We will figure it out together.”
Quick Hits with Erik Thommy
What is Erik Thommy into? “I love to have good conversation with my teammates, to have a good relationship with them. It is really important for us to stick together, so if we have bad times during the season, it can help you.”
Who is Sporting’s funniest player: “Johnny [Russell].”
How was the offseason? What did you do for fun and to refresh? “Good. Friends, family. Lots of stuff to do in Germany.” Traveled in November with wife and friends.
As a midfielder, you are in the thick of all the action. From that point of view, how does playing in Germany/The Bundesliga compare to MLS? “It is a different kind of football in MLS compared to Germany. We have a lot of individual class here in MLS; a lot of players who can play in the Bundesliga. The Bundesliga is one of the best leagues in the world, and sometimes the soccer there is a little bit faster. I said it when I moved to Kansas City, MLS has developed in the last few years. And it is going to be better in the next few years.”
On new holding midfielder Nemanja Radoja, “He is a good guy, and he has lots of experience in what to do. We can help him as well. He’s done a good job until now.”
Next up: “Year Two with Willy Agada” Stay tuned.