Jamaican Soccer Star Dominates Florida Fields

Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, UT sophomore Ryan Thompson often came home from playing soccer crying in pain to his mother.

“Our area is dangerous and I would come home late with cuts and bruises,” Thompson said. “We shared the same bed together, so she experienced my pain with me.

I knew her worries were out of care and love.”

Thompson, 22, grew up with his mother and no money. Although it was obvious to see his passion for soccer, his mother didn’t initially approve of her only child playing.

His grandmother had to convince her.

Thompson spoke of his mother in an endearing way. He said he’s living for her and wants to see her happy and she wants to see him happy as well. They now laugh about her not wanting him to play soccer before.

“She sees now that it’s made a way for [us] to have a better life,” said Thompson.

UT recruited Thompson last year to play soccer and from observing him on the field, one might think he played goal keeper before he could walk.

“He made some mistakes last year, but he’s an amazing player,” said head coach Adrian Bush. “He’s probably the most athletic goal keeper to ever come through UT.”

Thompson ran track and played cricket when he was younger. He hit his first soccer field at 13-years-old.

“I was never a goal keeper until one day I played a pick-up game and my friend wanted me to try out for his club team,” said Thompson. “I was the worst goal keeper there.”

When everyone slept, he practiced – three times a day – and as the worst player on the team he got to practice first.

“I was determined, was never that guy to give up,” said Thompson. “My coach didn’t want to give me no gears, but he told me one day because of my effort, I was going to be the best goal keeper on the island.”

Between the ages of 16 and 17 Thompson started to notice the transition of his skills and soccer abilities.

“At one point, I couldn’t even catch a ball then I noticed hey, I’m starting to do things I never imagined I’d be able to do,” said Thompson.

Soccer teams from his area were also aware of his improvements. Thompson got called to try out for the Jamaican National Soccer Team at 16 and didn’t make it.

However, he made it at 17 and the following year he became Vice Captain for the U-20 team.

The best players in the country make up the Jamaica National Soccer Team and Thompson is still on it.

He’s been on the U-23 team for two and a half years, while playing on the senior team.

“The senior team doesn’t have an age limit it’s just the best players regardless of the age from the team,” said Thompson. “My goal is to play regularly for the senior team, so I can help my country qualify for the 2010 World Cup.”

This sport allows Thompson to see the world. Honduras, Mexico, Germany, Italy and China are just some of the countries he’s seen.

“The first game I played for the National Team was in Germany. I cried. It was very emotional. I couldn’t believe it was me,” said Thompson. “I reflected back on all the other moments. I wasn’t good. Often times I came home and cried because people said I wasn’t good.”

He was a freshman captain for the UT soccer team last year. Coach Bush was also a freshman captain during his soccer years at UT.

“It’s unlikely that a freshman is captain, but his maturity is very strong and he’s not your typical 18-year-old freshman coming in,” said Bush. “His teammates respect him. When he wants to ask something of the team they respect and listen to his opinion. He has great character values and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

His teammate Ricardo Cardoso stands by the coach’s words.

“Ryan is a great guy. He brings positive energy to the team. He has so much passion for the game and works really hard in practice. He’s a true leader,” said Cardoso. “We have been playing together for two seasons and I can assure you that he is one of the best human beings I have ever met. I really hope our friendship lasts forever because he is the type of guy you want as a friend.”

Thompson chose to come to UT with hopes of making good changes for the program and continuing with its strong legacy.

The NCAA made Thompson ineligible for a year because he played against professional club teams. Thompson decided to sit out his senior year in order to play now. He has played five games so far this season, including the team’s victories in the Sunshine State Conference title. Now they go on to play for the Regional and National titles.

Perhaps Thompson’s success also comes from the power of prayer.

“I am a very prayerful guy. I know I am not where I’m supposed to be. I thank God for where I’m at right now,” said Thompson. “My coaches support me through everything and I have good teammates. I’d do anything for them.”

Thompson hopes that soccer helps him to get his education and help others – especially the kids back home – like the ones who have helped him.

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