All of 17 years old, Niko Tsakiris has enjoyed an auspicious start to his professional soccer career.
After Tsakiris signed a Homegrown contract with the San Jose Earthquakes in January 2022, the Saratoga native didn’t waste any time making an impact. Last season, Tsakiris appeared in 10 matches for the Quakes and played for the U.S. under-20 National Team that won the U20 Concacaf Championship last July in Honduras.
The midfielder scored three goals and had an assist in the tournament. In a 3-2 loss to the rival LA Galaxy last September, Tsakiris made his first-ever MLS start, connecting on 30 of 34 passes attempted, including five into the opposing final third, per Chris Smith of 90min.com.
It was a performance like that and in the Concacaf Championship that has Tsakiris’ stock on the rise. Major League Soccer (MLS) has one of the shortest off-seasons out of any of the major U.S. pro sports leagues, but Tsakiris was able to get refreshed mentally and physically in preparation for his second season.
The 5-foot-7, 154-pounder talked about the state of his development and goals for the upcoming season after a Jan. 12 practice.
“I’m still looking to get my first goal in the league, but it’s a long way,” he said. “We’ve got a long season and hopefully it will come. [Last year] was great. For it to be kind of a first step in my career, I think it was really helpful. And with the group we have a lot of experience on the team which helped me grow as a player each and everyday. So, taking that into this year, [I’m] still developing and I’m still young but just to get more experience this year will be helpful. I think I’ve matured a lot more now as a person and as a player, and looking forward to the season and how it goes.”
The Quakes play their 2023 season-opener on the road against Atlanta United FC on Feb. 25, followed by their home-opener March 4 against Vancouver at PayPal Park. Tsakiris is active and moves well off the ball and loves creating opportunities for himself and his teammates as the 10, or an attacking midfielder.
He’s expected to take an expanded role with San Jose this season, but isn’t looking too far ahead.
“You want to take it day by day and don’t want to get ahead of yourself,” he said. “But it would be amazing to get some more minutes this year and play a little more to help the team as much as I can. If I’m part of the plan, great. If not, I’m helping the team as much as I can on and off the field.”
Because of his busy schedule and the start of his pro career, Tsakiris ended up finishing his high school course work through an online program connected to Los Gatos High. Tsakiris played soccer for a recreation team until he was 8 or 9 before making the move to the more competitive club game.
His career and development can only be described as meteoric since that point. Among some of the key points in his journey, Tsakiris played for De Anza Force SC before moving to Florida and joining the IMG Academy at 10. He returned to the Bay Area in 2017 to play for the Quakes Academy.
By late 2021, Tsakiris and San Jose were working on a contract, and things became official in early 2022. Tsakiris was 16 at the time of his signing and the 10th player out of the Quakes Academy to sign with the big club.
Although Tsakiris has yet to get a goal in MLS play, he did score in one of his two appearances in the U.S. Open cup against Bay Cities FC last April. San Jose finished dead last in the Western Conference last season, totaling just 35 points and finishing with a negative-17 goal differential.
Among the 28 teams in the MLS, only one other squad had a worse goal differential and two others had a lower point total. But the Quakes have a new coach in Luchi Gonzalez and optimism tends to run high for most teams before the start of the season.
“It’s been a great couple of days, new change, new faces in staff and in the team,” Tsakiris said. “So it’s been good to see a new way to play. We’re excited for the season for sure.”