Spencer Thompson has played against every defensive soccer strategy known, but he never faced the kind of intense pressure he faced for a month in the Portland Timbers training camp.
When most of the players are playing for a contract, there are rare moments of let up and it is something the Mountain Pointe graduate apparently thrived in during his first camp.
"It was the most stressful time of my life," Thompson said. "Every minute there is pressure. No one takes a breather. It's a constant fight for survival. Players are getting cut and they bring someone in the door right behind them. It is about surviving each day."
Thompson, 22, had a little more leeway as the team's No. 1 draft pick, second overall, of the MLS Supplemental Draft on Jan. 18 out of UC-Irvine. Camp started about a week later and included some time in Casa Grande and ended last week.
Thompson wasn't assured of a roster spot like No. 1 picks in other sports.
"The coach told me nothing was guaranteed and that's all I needed to hear," said the 5-foot-11, 170-pound forward. "As much as I thought I was going to be prepared to play at the pro level it was nothing like I have ever been part of before. Perfection is demanded on every pass, every play and everything else.
"It was a learning experience. I thought I worked hard before, but I had never seen anything like that so there was an adjustment."
Thompson has been through it before.
Each time he has moved up a level - from youth to club and high school to college - Thompson has found a way to match it and rise above.
"The biggest thing is working every minute," he said. "It's the most important thing I learned from my college coach. I always heard and thought it before, but it was demanded from us and he was adamant about working hard for every ball, every possession, every attack. There were no breathers and that really helped when I got to camp where some were playing for their livelihood.
"It's either sink or swim."
Apparently, Thompson is a pretty good swimmer and Mountain Pointe coach Bryan Sabato said it was noticeable from the start.
"I always felt that with the right breaks Spencer would play professionally," Sabato said. "His determination and will drive him to succeed. He has a burning desire to be the best both on and off the field that he can be. His work ethic and commitment are second to none."
Thompson, who set the Pride record for goals (84) and assists (54) and a two-time all-state pick, completely agree with fact that he pushes himself to be the best possible player helped him reach the professional level.
"Everybody has something different driving them," he said. "For me anytime I step on the field I want to be the best player on the field. If I wasn't the best then I watch to see how I can excel like the best players.
"When I got to Mountain Pointe it was Freddie McDonald, Ben Hougland and Paul Kierstad. I looked up to them and learned from them. It was the same thing when I first got to college and now, here with Portland, I am right back to the bottom and it is time to learn and adjust."
Thompson, who wears No. 31, is on the off-budget roster, which means he is not among the top 20 on the roster and pay scale. He signed a multi-year, non-guaranteed contract with club options for additional years. His pay scale (anywhere between $42,000 and $32,600) depends on where he fits on the remaining 10 roster spots.
"I am not even traveling, let alone starting here yet," Thompson said. "But know I know what it takes to earn minutes and eventually start. I've been in this position before, but now the talent and intensity around me is nothing like I have ever seen before.
"This is the next step and I am blessed to be part of it."
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