Tracey Kevins, the head coach of the U.S. women’s Under-20 national team, remembers vividly the first time she saw Alyssa Thompson play. She was scouting at an event back in 2018 when the director of Thompson’s club in Southern California recommended that she come and watch this bright young talent they had.
When he mentioned her birth year, 2004, Kevins was taken aback. “Wow,” she said. “That’s way ahead of the age groups we’re working with at the moment.”
“Yes,” he responded. “But I think you need to have a look at her.”
What the coach saw was a 13-year-old playing with a team four years older than she was. She saw a player that caught the eye immediately, a “brave” forward that wasn’t afraid to take players on. When you watch Thompson today, you see those same traits, the same electricity that gets you up off your seat.
“She's really managed to maintain that, which is hard as you get older and you realise the potential dangers ahead of you,” Kevins tells GOAL. “She's not changed too much. But we've just really seen her flourish over the last couple of years with the different steps that she's taken along her journey.”
Those steps have always been challenging, and have been key in allowing Thompson to develop as well as she has.
It was three years ago when Mario Gonzalez, director of boys’ club Total Futbol Academy, got a call. Thompson and her younger sister, Gisele, who plays in the U.S. women’s U17 national team, had played for TFA for a short period previously. After playing in girls’ teams for a while, their father wanted a new challenge for them.
“Playing with boys at this age, what we thought were going to be challenges ended up being actually strengths for both of them,” Gonzalez explains to GOAL.
Alyssa plays in the U19s team that plays in MLS Next, despite still being just 17. She is the only girl in the league.
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“The speed of play is very quick and if you don't pass the ball, the boys are on you,” she tells GOAL. “They give you no time. It's either you get hurt, or you have a good touch and pass it around.
“That's definitely something I've learned and taken into the girls’ game as well, which is so helpful, because it's just easier to scan the field.”
“Alyssa's personality is very easy-going, it's transcendent, at the point where she is very easy to get along with, very easy to talk to, very friendly,” Gonzalez adds. “Even in the tough games that she's played in against boys, she hasn't been really physically or mentally put down to a point where she broke down in tears or frustration, or just gave up on a play or wanted to get subbed out.
“She's very resilient. Again, it's just one of the traits that she has. Her personality allows her to just kind of play through things.”
It has allowed her to soar, too. Thompson was the second-youngest player on the roster for the U.S. in their U20 CONCACAF Championship triumph, only older than NWSL record-breaker Olivia Moultrie.
At high school, Thompson scored 48 goals in 18 games last year as Harvard-Westlake went undefeated, form that saw her named the Gatorade National Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year. Next year, she will head to Stanford, a program that has produced four of the last five No.1 picks in the NWSL Draft.
She has even signed a deal with Nike, along with Gisele, making them the first high-school athletes to a sign a name, image and likeness deal with the sports brand.
And she has done all that while still excelling in track and field and getting top grades.
“The best compliment I can give her is that if I didn't know that she'd signed [the Nike deal], I wouldn't know,” Kevins says. “She doesn't change. She's a very humble kid. She comes from a very good family who have strong values in terms of what they value - and it's for her to be a well-rounded, good person.”
Part of the reason why Thompson keeps her feet on the ground amid all the plaudits is because she has big aims, too.
“I just have to keep my head down and keep working and the accolades and stuff like that will come,” she says. “I think it's just something that adds to my journey. It's not like the be all, end all for me. It's amazing, but also, I still have work to do.”
“She's what you would call a coach's dream,” Gonzalez explains. “To have a quality player, with a quality personality, very open-minded to being coached.
“She takes coaching points well, she's willing to try different things in terms of her approach to either finishing or crossing or defending. I think she's developed and the best part about it is I think she has so much more room to grow.”
“I, for sure, want to develop my finishing, and my variation of crosses, because I'm a winger,” Thompson says. “Also, I could play as a No.9 sometimes so, if I have one chance, being able to finish that one chance, not needing extra.”
Alongside that development, the teenager’s aims right now are on having a strong U20 World Cup as the U.S. try to win it for the first time since 2012. She would also like a chance to train with the senior team.
What about long-term? The California native only needs a second to think. “Definitely winning the Olympics in 2028, because it's in Los Angeles,” she replies. “I hope me and my sister can be on the team together and win it together. That would be really cool.”
It’s quite the dream to have at 17 years old, but when you have the talent and desire that Thompson has, you can dream big.
“The mental approach she has, I think it's phenomenal for her age,” Gonzalez says, signing off on a perfect note. “The fact that she's able to endure all this at this age, it just goes to show that I think she's on the right track for whatever comes next.”