After signing his first professional contract on Jan. 13 at just 16 years old, Niko Tsakiris has gotten right to work by taking on step one of his first year: preseason. The young midfielder played for the Quakes Academy since 2017 before climbing the ranks to the first team. As the Earthquakes approach the end of preseason camp later this week, Tsakiris shared his thoughts on his experience.
What have been your impressions of preseason so far?
“Being my first [preseason], it’s super exciting and it’s definitely different than the Quakes Academy for obvious reasons. The guys have been great with me, the staff as well. I’m just super excited for the season and for what lies ahead for this group. Hopefully we have a good season and finish it well.”
Based on preseason contests and training sessions, your fitness levels and competitiveness have been on par with the more experienced players. Do you think playing for the Quakes Academy prepared you well for this opportunity?
“For sure. I’ve been with the club for four years now, so they’ve definitely helped me progress and grow as a person both on and off the field. Preseason has been a long one so far, but yes, they have prepared me for this moment.”
What has been the most difficult part of preseason for you? Your favorite?
“The hardest for me is getting used to the speed and rhythm of the game. Other than that, it’s been super enjoyable and super fun. It’s a great group of guys. The best part? I don’t know. It’s all been great. Like I said, the guys and staff have been awesome to work with.”
How has it been bonding with the other young Homegrowns?
“For me, it’s obviously a lot easier to connect with the younger guys but to have connections with the older guys I think it’s beneficial as well just because of the experience that they have. Getting a little bit of that experience that they have and chatting with them a bit can help me as a younger player.”
Is there a player you bonded with the most?
“It’s been a mix [between all the players], but from the experienced group it has been Shea [Salinas]. He has been helping me recover mentally both on and off the field throughout preseason. With the younger guys, all of them have been really cool with me. And obviously Emi [Ochoa], Cade [Cowell] and Casey [Walls] also with them being the younger guys of the group, we can connect a little bit more. But like I said, it’s good to have bonds with everyone.”
How has your communication been with family and friends back home?
“With this being my first preseason, my family and friends want to know what’s going on and almost live preseason through me in a way. They have been super supportive of me, super happy for me and proud. We have only been away for a week and they’re asking me all of these questions, but it’s good to have people like that and a good support system for sure.”
What are some of your goals for the 2022 MLS season?
“I would love to get my professional debut this year. It’s my first year and I’m only 16, so I think for me it’s about taking it day by day and learning as much as I can, try to be a pro in that field. If I can make my debut that would be amazing, but day in and day out trying to get better every day is a big one for me, as well as learning to become a pro.”