Tomkinson continues to improve after moving to Norwich City
May 19, 2020
JONATHAN TOMKINSON HAS BEEN in the game of soccer since he could kick a ball. When his parents created a recreational team for him and his younger brother to play on, Tomkinson never stopped playing regardless of the season or weather. Being from Plano, Texas, the weather rarely changed from warm and sunny, but the years he spent in the development systems at Solar SC and FC Dallas prepared him for his move to a colder climate in East England.
His playing career did not see him start out as a center back though. He started playing as center midfielder but had a season with his local club in which he bounced from striker to midfielder to defender. At 13, he played a season at right wing for FC Dallas’ academy team before joining Solar SC a year later. Despite starting in center midfield, a shortage of center backs at that time opened the opportunity for Tomkinson to cement that as his permanent position.
Tomkinson’s move to Solar SC also aligned with the age at which he recalls starting to take soccer seriously and see himself playing professionally. At 15-years-old, he began traveling overseas to go on trials with teams in England with the help of his father and coaches he met at Solar and FC Dallas.
“I went over to Europe a couple times with an FC Dallas coach, Neil Thornber,” Tomkinson said. “My dad would check in on me to ask what my goals were, and I told him I wanted to play in the Premier League one day. We started thinking about going to England to do trials, and we decided to eventually do it. I think it was four trials that I ended up doing. My first was at Ipswich, which are Norwich’s biggest rivals and my dad’s side of the family supports them funnily enough. I spent about six weeks there to get my first insight into Europe, and I thought I did well up until the last week. I was used to playing in where it was hot even in the winter, but now it was snowing.”
Tomkinson was on trial at West Bromwich Albion at the same as his stint with Ipswich. The physicality with which these team played was the main aspect Tomkinson struggled with during his time at these trials, but the feedback he received from coaches only drove him to improve. He would return to Texas and work on the weaknesses in his game coaches pointed out as he continued playing for Solar SC. To Tomkinson’s benefit, his former head coach Diego Castro had helped him refine the technical and mental aspects of his game which meant the physical side came as he continued to grow and workout.
Castro was a meticulous coach throughout Tomkinson’s time at Solar. He emphasized the importance of being able to shift defensive lines as the ball moved up and down the field to have a positional advantage over their opponents. Tomkinson described him as “obsessed with having a well-organized team” that could properly pressure and drop against opponents. In this well-organized system, Tomkinson learned how to lead a defensive line as the center back and progressively refined his positioning.
Likewise, Thornber allowed Tomkinson to train jump into his team’s training session to get a few extra touches in. Even though he never was officially his coach, Thornber provided Tomkinson with the resources and advice needed to continue his development even after he left FC Dallas. Even Luchi Gonzalez had taken an interest in his development and tried to get him to resign with FC Dallas’ academy. Though he never went back, Tomkinson remained in contact with both coaches throughout his time at Solar and while on trials in Europe to continually hold himself accountable for working on the weak points that pointed out to him.
“Eventually, I got my trial at Norwich last spring,” Tomkinson said. “The head of recruitment at Ipswich had moved to Norwich halfway through my trial, so my dad reached out to him with some film on how I’d progressed. They offered me a one-week trial and then sent me down to Colchester for a second week because they didn’t have anything going on at that time. It was challenging, but I played well. I remember playing against Tottenham and thinking it was not going to go well because it was Tottenham. We actually ended up winning that game 3-0, and it’s probably one of the best matches I’ve ever played in my life.”
Having visited family near Norwich throughout the summers of his childhood, moving there on his own wasn’t a big culture shock. The geographic diversity of Norwich’s under-18 squad at the time also meant everyone was acclimatizing to a new city together. Amid his preparations for the new season, Tomkinson received his first-ever call-up to a United States national team camp. Despite not getting off the bench in the under-17 team’s 2-1 victory over Mexico last September, Tomkinson reveled in the opportunity to play with his compatriots.
“I don’t want to say [the call-up] was a surprise, but it definitely shocked me,” Tomkinson said. “Josh Ramsay and I had been playing together for three years at that point, and we would always talk about how we should be there and that we deserved it. Then it happened, and it felt unreal. I would say that first camp was quite difficult trying to settle in because all the other boys had been playing with each other for years, but it’s going to be like that forever. I’m always going to be playing with different people, and these are going to be players playing at the highest level.”
As Tomkinson continues his progression through the youth ranks at Norwich, it’s likely he’ll get more looks with the upcoming under-20 cycle. Training in the middle of a pandemic has hindered the progress he was hoping to make in his first full season in England, but he continues to train in Texas with personal training regimes and those developed by Norwich’s coaching staff. If the Germany and the Bundesliga are anything to judge the rest of Europe’s progression back from the pandemic though, it shouldn’t be too long until Tomkinson’s holding down Norwich’s backline once again.