Wells Thompson of Major League Soccer: “Soccer is what I do, not who I am”

Liam Flint had the privilege of catching up with former New England, Colorado and Chicago midfielder, Wells Thompson, as they look back at his time in the MLS and how he came to know God.

Did you always want to be a pro soccer player, or were there other dreams and ambitions?

“Soccer was always my number one passion but I played everything growing up, Basketball, Ice Hockey, Swimming and Golf. However soccer is what I feel God had really gifted me with and so when it came to cutting things out due to time commitments I always ended up sticking with soccer.

I was actually a bit of a wild child and so I got taken to a school for troubled teens, I spent a year and a half there and no one was really recruiting from that kind of school. Plus when you go through an ordeal like that I am not sure that you are thinking about becoming a pro soccer player, you just want to get home. So soccer was a dream of mine but at the time it was very far-fetched.”

 

You were drafted by New England, how did that big opportunity come about?

“Going to Wake Forest University was a really big break for me, just the fact that I made it through college and was able to play on their team. At one point whilst I was there we were actually the number one team in the nation. I played with some very high profile names at Wake Forest and so for me to be drafted came as a bit of shock, however the coaches at New England just really believed in me. It was a dream come true and something that I never thought would happen.”

You have played for New England, Colorado and Chicago in the MLS, where did you enjoy your time the most? Why?

“Well they are all great cities and awesome sports towns, I would say that I enjoyed Colorado the most, I think I was more mature and understood the business of soccer a bit more, also I loved the guys on the team and just the area itself. I am an outdoor guy and so always love that aspect of it and on the soccer side of things we managed to win the MLS Cup in 2010 which was pretty special. They are all great cities and I particularly wish that I could go back to Boston, knowing what I know now, to have taken more advantage of the area.”

 

What would be your career highlight to date if you could shrink it to one moment?

“I think my career highlight would be getting drafted, probably ahead of the MLS Cup. I mean the MLS Cup is special because it is something that you always dream of, the Super Bowl of Major League Soccer but being drafted was so special because it propelled me to have a career and to play pro soccer. I remember it very fondly, I went up to the drafts with my mum and my dad after my coach had called me two days before to say that we need to fly up there. So we flew up in our own time and my dad had booked us into the front row of the players’ area, with me thinking I wouldn’t even get drafted. However I did in the end and I was just really thankful that I didn’t trip on my way up the stairs to shake the commissioner’s hand.”

Who is the best player that you have played against in your career?

“I’d go with two, the first would be Steve Ralston and then Jeff Larentowicz because I played with him for seven years and we followed each other around the leagues. He came to Colorado with me and then Chicago, he is a true professional. He’s a guy quite like me who went to a smaller college and so just to be able to watch his career has been special.”

 

Why do you think big stars like Gerrard, Lampard, Pirlo, Villa and Giovinco are coming over to the MLS?

“Well for starters I think it is better than the Premier League, hands down, nah I am just kidding. I think the appeal of America is to come and bring their families, a lot of these guys towards the end of their careers come over and that’s not to say that they see it as an easy way out. For instance when David Beckham and Thierry Henry came over they worked hard and played really well, it hasn’t been a vacation, as Ashley Cole said previously! The league is getting better, year on year, so that makes the pay go up but I think a lot of it has to do with the appeal of America.”

 

Let’s move on to your life off the pitch Wells, where did you first encounter God? What’s the story?

“Well I grew up in a Christian household so my parents raised us with Biblical values and we went to church. In the South of America it is ingrained in society and culture, there is a church on every street corner. For me though I thought that was Jesus was like the least cool thing ever, I didn’t want to be known as a Christian and I didn’t really have a personal relationship with Jesus until junior year at college. I was about twenty two or twenty three and I decided to go on a Missions trip to the Dominican Republic, to just paint houses and help the children there. This is where God really ‘wrecked’ my world and changed my heart.”

 

How has knowing God impacted your soccer career? What has it taught you?

“As a believer God infiltrates every area of my life, I don’t separate anything, who I am is a son of God and it’s my identity. However for many years of my life and still sometimes to this day I find my identity in being a soccer player, it’s been a struggle and it will continue to be until we go home to be with Jesus. I am coming to understand that I am Wells Thompson, son of God and that soccer is what I do, not who I am.

There have been plenty of hurdles, I remember my first interview with New England Revolution and I was a new Christian, so everything was about praising God and giving him the glory. Now Boston is very different and there you keep religion to yourself, so the PR person came over to me the next day after the story had been printed and told me to stop talking like that up here, people aren’t going to like you. So if you can even call that persecution, it was really difficult to deal with because I had never experienced that before, however at the same time it was also one of the greatest things that happened to me because it made me make my faith my own. I couldn’t rely on my parent’s faith anymore, it had made me study and dig into the bible, I was asking, is Jesus who he says he is? I came to the conclusion that he is and it will always be a process.

One of the struggles that becoming a believer highlighted is that I am a very physical player and so I tend to get a lot of cards. These are things that people say is not glorifying to God on the soccer field, so that’s something that I have wrestled with for my whole career. How do I go out there and be a warrior for God whilst honouring him in the process? It is hard because people will say that you aren’t a believer because you are dirty and I struggled with shame a lot. I just came to understand that God wants us to be the most driven and passionate people in this world but that you can’t cross the line of disrespecting your opponents. You know how Paul talks about having a thorn in his side, well for me soccer has been that thorn in my side as I feel like every life lesson I’ve learnt has come through it. I thank God for it all.”

 

Any fellow soccer players that you share your faith with?

“Yeah absolutely, the MLS does a great job, I think every team has a Chaplain who will be there for pre-game prayer and everywhere I have been the chaplains have been really influential in my life. There has always been a handful of believers too and Jesus calls us to be in community, not lone ranger Christians. Being a soccer player it can be hard to get plugged into a church and so you understand how important it is to cling to your team mates and invest in the team Chaplain.

Coming from the south I just assumed that everyone knew Jesus and was ok with him, however going to play in the north I realised that really isn’t true. I remember times at Colorado where my team mates would drill me with questions after practice but it was actually pretty cool because I learnt to say that I don’t know, I don’t have all the answers. It’s just a great opportunity, you know Jesus is offensive and it’s either his way or the highway.”

 

Does God feature in your match day routine? If so how?

“I have become way more relaxed about it as I have grown in my faith, I look back at my career in the MLS and wish I could  do it again because I spent so much of it in fear and with nerves. One thing I am really big on is freedom, Jesus calls us to live in freedom and I have lived a lot of my life in bondage to soccer and to people’s opinions. I am just more relaxed now and on a game day I like to get stuck in to the Bible or listen to worship music like Lecrae. It’s become more about Jesus and as long as we keep our eyes on him then everything else will fall into place, that’s what I am trying to do on game day.”

 

Are you apart of a Church in Carolina? What’s your involvement?

“Yeah we are, we are part of a Church called Harvest Church, we have family in the area and are about to join. I believe that we are all on mission and God’s number one way for being on mission is through the church. It is really important for Christians to be plugged in to a local body and to have that community. Soccer has made it tough to plug in and get to know people so my wife and I are excited to do that.”

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