When Niko Tsakiris signed his Homegrown contract last January, not many would have guessed he’d go on to make an impact as a 16-year-old rookie. It wouldn’t have been shocking to see him spend his 2022 season getting his feet wet with Earthquakes II in MLS NEXT Pro while training regularly with the first team to prepare for 2023.
However, Tsakiris wound up appearing in 10 MLS matches, nearly one-third of the regular season schedule, and made three starts, the first of which came against the LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium.
“I think for me to get some starts and some minutes, 10 appearances, as a rookie, it was something that I didn’t expect coming into the year,” explained Tsakiris from the team hotel in Palm Springs. “But the opportunity came and I made my debut against Philly and my first start against the Galaxy at Stanford. As a rookie, you want to make your debut and you want to get your first start and you want all your firsts, but I think the biggest thing was just enjoying every day. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my first goal, but hopefully that will come this year.”
Tsakiris, still a fresh-faced 17-year-old, won’t get mistaken for a grizzled vet any time soon, but his ability and potential is undeniable. He works hard on both sides of the ball, is among the cleverer passers and dribblers, and has a dangerous left foot on set pieces. His 85th-minute corner kick in the team’s last preseason match against Monterey Bay F.C. led to the game-winning header by Daniel Munie.
It's hard to talk about where Tsakiris is headed without first discussing from where he came. The son of a former professional player and youth national team coach, Tsakiris played for De Anza Force and Florida’s IMG Academy before firmly landing with the Quakes Academy in 2017. He was challenged within the Quakes Academy, often playing up a year, and earned a pathway towards a pro contract.
“The Academy was a big part of me taking my next step to join the first team. Not only the staff and the support that I had coming through, but also the players and the group we had was a very strong team. Also, getting to train with the first team before I signed reaffirmed that this is something I want to do, and the club supported me with that decision.”
As Tsakiris heads into his second season, he can draw on a significant amount of experience garnered in 2022. He will also benefit from the tutelage of one of America’s most respected developers of youth talent: head coach Luchi Gonzalez.
“Given the opportunity to play last year as much as I did, it definitely gives me confidence coming into this year. And with Luchi and what he did at FC Dallas, it’s something that I look forward to. Nothing is given and I still have to do my job like I did last season, but hopefully more opportunities come for me.
“Last year, I learned a lot, both good and bad, on and off the field. It was just a big learning year for me.”
Now, roughly one month together with Gonzalez, Tsakiris praised the former FC Dallas and U.S. Men’s National Team coach.
“I think Luchi’s been a great addition to the club. The guys have really enjoyed working with him thus far. The concepts that he’s had us work on, the guys have grabbed pretty well. We’re excited to get started for these next two or three weeks of prep before our first game in Atlanta.
“It’s really exciting for me to work under him. What he did in Dallas developing young talent, young players, is exciting because we have a young team, we’re hungry, and we’re eager to learn.”
While Tsakiris is laser-focused on helping the Quakes in 2023, a spot on the U.S. U20 National Team for the 2023 FIFA U20 World Cup is another guiding light for the Saratoga native this season. He, Cade Cowell, and Emi Ochoa are all in contention to be on the plane to Indonesia. During last month’s U20 camp, Tsakiris was the youngest player invited, and Ochoa the second.
“To make the U.S. squad would be something really spectacular. To be able to experience that, it would be special. Right now, it’s hard to put into words. It’s an exciting moment and opportunity that is achievable, but a lot can happen between now and May. So, all of my focus right now is on San Jose.”
A longer-term goal for Tsakiris is earning a spot on the senior national team when the FIFA World Cup returns to U.S. soil in 2026.
“To play in a World Cup for your country, there’s no better opportunity. And with it being in the U.S. and me being 21 when the time comes, there would be no better feeling for me. Hearing the national anthem in your country with the crest on your chest, there’s nothing better. There’s nothing better.
“There’s a lot of hard work that has to go into that, but it’s definitely a realistic goal and definitely achievable.”