Tommy Thompson admitted it was a bit strange.
On Friday night he sat on the bench hoping to get into the game for the red-hot San Jose Earthquakes against the rival Los Angeles Galaxy in a key Major League Soccer match at Avaya Stadium.
A few hours later, the ’Quakes midfielder/forward was back in his Sacramento hometown, wearing a Republic FC uniform and preparing to play the Tulsa Roughnecks FC in a critical USL match at Bonney Field.
“Yeah, it’s interesting,” said Thompson, the former Granite Bay High School star. “I’m grateful for any professional minutes I get, so I will take whatever comes to me. I had a great time tonight in Sacramento.”
If there was any disappointment of being relegated to soccer’s minor leagues, Thompson and fellow ’Quakes JJ Koval and Mark Sherrod, also officially loaned to Sacramento on Saturday, didn’t show it with their performances.
Instead, the trio had a huge impact on Sacramento’s 3-1 win over Tulsa in front of another announced sellout crowd of 11,442
Thompson scored the game-winning goal seconds before the end of the first half and assisted on Sherrod’s insurance goal in the 85th minute. Koval took over for the suspended Ivan Mirkovic in the defensive midfield and was a dominating presence.
Republic FC coach Paul Buckle said a few days earlier that he was looking to bring in “fresh faces” to try and spark a Sacramento team that had gone 1-2-4 in its last seven league matches and was in seventh place, one spot out of the playoffs in the Western Conference.
It worked out even better than Buckle had expected.
“If we didn’t have that strength of Koval in the middle, the energy of Thompson on the right and the presence of Mark Sherrod up top, it might have been a different game,” Buckle said.
The win was the first for Republic FC since its 2-0 victory against the Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Aug. 1. Republic FC (11-8-5, 38 points) also moved into the sixth place, two points ahead of the Roughnecks and just five points behind first-place Oklahoma City Energy FC with four regular-season matches remaining.
Even though Koval and Thompson hadn’t trained a minute with Republic FC before coming up Saturday to join the team, and Sherrod met his new teammates for the first time on Friday, the trio seemed to fit in seamlessly.
Thompson said familiarity helped. He had played six USL matches and Koval two for Republic FC while on loan from San Jose last season.
“I built chemistry here last season,” Thompson said. “I knew a lot of the guys, so when I got on and started playing, it felt like last season. I thought I had a good couple of touches in the beginning, and from there things just got better.”
Tulsa opened the scoring on a Sammy Ochoa penalty kick in the 33rd minute after Republic FC’s James Kiffe was called for a foul on Brady Ballew in the box.
Republic FC tied the score eight minutes later when Danny Barrera scored from above the top of the box after Thompson shanked his shot attempt and the ball rolled toward Barrera.
Then seconds before the end of the first half, Thompson didn’t miss this time. He scored on a right-footed, six-yard, near-post blast from an Emrah Klimenta cross that put Republic FC up 2-1.
With Tulsa needing a win to stay in playoff contention and pressing Republic FC’s defense with long balls, Republic FC took advantage of a rare counterattack opportunity that was finished by Sherrod’s near-post blast past Tulsa goalkeeper Jake Feener that Thompson had set up nicely.
Buckle admitted it was a bit of a gamble playing with the team’s chemistry by starting Thompson and Koval without any training with Republic FC. Sherrod replaced captain Justin Braun at halftime.
“I have had loan players at other clubs and got them in quickly, but not as quickly as this,” Buckle said. “It was a gamble in many ways, but ... I thought they would fit in. Koval showed a great calm in the middle, won a lot of headers and was the ideal replacement for Ivan.
“Tommy was very industrious. As straight as he came into the dressing room (before the match), he had a big smile on his face. I love them type of players. An assist and goal, I can’t ask more from him.”
Buckle said it helped that the Republic FC players welcomed the trio, and it was a “good, positive dressing room” even though some players were disappointed that they would not be in the lineup.
Buckle isn’t sure what the trio’s status will be as Republic FC prepares to play its next three matches on the road. It’s something he will discuss with San Jose coach Dominic Kinnear.
“It might be a case of them going back and being on the subs bench again,” Buckle said. “(Going back and forth) isn’t ideal, but Dominic is going to be losing some players to international duty next week.”
But Buckle said the ’Quakes players showed that even without training with Republic FC “they are more than capable of doing a great job for Sacramento.”
Thompson, who has played in 13 matches this season for San Jose and was a key member of the U.S. National Team for the FIFA U-20 World Cup earlier this year, said he has been following Republic FC this season.
“I’m always rooting for the hometown team,” Thompson said. “As a team we played really well tonight. I was just happy to contribute. I thought across the board everyone contributed. So I was happy to be part of it.”