He's Gone From Mines To Minutes

"I was like, 'No way,' " said Craig Thompson of his reaction when told by United Coach Tom Soehn that he would be starting. (By Tony Quinn -- Mls Via Getty Images)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The mysterious player starting on the right side of midfield for D.C. United in last Saturday's SuperLiga opener -- and who will probably play there again tonight against Mexican club Atlante -- has spent barely two weeks on the roster and has yet to play in an MLS regular season match.

Before joining United, the biggest crowd to watch Craig Thompson perform numbered maybe 1,000 for an NCAA tournament game.

He studied mechanical engineering at Colorado School of Mines, a Division II program known as the Orediggers whose mascot, Marvin the Miner, roamed the sidelines with a replica pickax.

Ignored in the MLS draft, Thompson was claimed by Houston in the second round of an obscure supplemental process a week later. The Dynamo did not see an immediate future for him and decided to deal his rights to United, which, desperate for healthy bodies for this second annual MLS-Mexican tournament, thrust him into the starting lineup against Chivas Guadalajara.

When Coach Tom Soehn told him he would start, "I was like, 'No way,' " Thompson said yesterday. "But I had to get focused and worry about the game. Definitely a little nervous before I went out there. Some of the guys were like, 'Just stay calm and play easy.' "

Thompson, 22, contributed 90 serviceable minutes during United's 2-1 loss. Given United's badly depleted roster, he seems likely to retain the job tonight at RFK Stadium. To maintain hopes of reaching the semifinals, United needs a tie or victory against Atlante before facing Houston in the group finale Saturday.

"It's difficult enough to come into a league game, let alone against Chivas, where you have to play at a higher level, a higher intensity," said defender Bryan Namoff, who played behind Thompson on the right side. "He's learning. He has a long way to go, but he has definitely taken some big strides, and with each game, he has gained more confidence."

Before United acquired him June 30 for a pick in the fourth (and final) round of the 2010 supplemental draft, the 5-foot-8, 160-pound Thompson had a tryout of sorts in a pair of D.C. reserve division games. Once the trade was finalized and he signed a low-level developmental contract, Thompson debuted in the second half of a U.S. Open Cup game against Rochester and then played 75 minutes against Chicago in the same competition a week later.

With few options on the flank last weekend, Soehn turned to Thompson against Chivas, Mexico's most popular club and employer of several Mexican national team players.

In describing Thompson, Soehn referenced Josh Gros, the strong-willed, versatile midfielder who was forced to retire last offseason at age 25 after suffering several concussions.

"He fights through everything," Soehn said. "We had the Josh Groses of the world who did that, and we are a missing a little bit of that" this year.

Thompson has had to adjust to new teammates and improve his fitness level after not playing much competitive soccer since last fall. After being drafted, he decided to continue his course work and did not join the Dynamo until May. Upon his departure from Houston, he trained with Real Colorado, his youth team in the Denver area.

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