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SSFC Spotlight: Jonathan Tomkinson pushing for minutes at Norwich City

The American defender made his debut this season.

Norwich City v AFC Bournemouth - Carabao Cup - Second Round - Carrow Road Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

With the United States Men’s National Team’s run at the 2022 World Cup ending in the Round of 16 against the Netherlands, the focus turns to the next cycle and the potential talents who may become key players. Four years is a very long time in the footballing world, and much of the current roster could experience turnover. One potential name to watch is Jonathan Tomkinson of Norwich City. The 20-year-old defender has begun to earn minutes this season in the English Championship and could find a spot on future back lines.

Born in Plano, Texas, Tomkinson grew up playing as a winger, midfielder, and striker while competing with the FC Dallas Academy. After being released from the MLS youth setup, he moved to Solar SC, switched to center back, and won the 2019 U.S. Soccer Development Academy national title. The developing talent underwent training sessions at Ipswich and West Bromwich Albion, being “shocked” by the quickness and physicality of the game in England.

In 2019, following a trial that included “one of the best performances” of his life, Tomkinson joined Norwich on a professional deal, initially competing for the U-18 squad and quickly becoming a regular with the reserves in the Premier League 2 and EFL Trophy. After overcoming an injury, he earned a nomination for League Player of the Month and often served as captain, which required him to guide and organize younger teammates. Observers praised his athleticism and resilient defending, noting physical improvement and forward-passing ability.

After being named to the match-day roster a few times last winter and exploring a few loan opportunities, Tomkinson signed a contract extension with the Canaries through June of 2024. “I’m delighted,” he told the club’s official website. “It’s been a long time coming, I work very hard for everything I do and my teammates push me every day, so I have to thank them and the staff as well. I’m very ambitious and this is just another step on the road. I was born and raised in America but playing in the Premier League is my dream. If I can get that done here, I’ll be very happy.”

Being relegated from the Premier League last season led to increased opportunities for younger members of the squad. Despite being considered a loan candidate, Tomkinson made his debut in August, starting and playing 90 minutes in both EFL Cup fixtures, overcoming an own goal in the first match. A few months later, he earned his first Championship appearance, going the distance at center back in a 1-0 loss to Burnley, with manager Dean Smith praising him as “excellent.” Pleased with his performances and continuing to impress in training, the club rewarded him with a contract extension lasting through June of 2025 with the option for another year.

The jump from the reserves to the senior squad has been an adjustment. “You get into the Championship and not every team plays this pretty style of ‘let’s play 50 passes before we have a shot on goal,’” he shared with Ladcast. “As a defender, that hardens you quite a bit because you go from playing against a striker who’s 5’8” and wants the ball at his feet to a striker who is 6’4” and wants to put an elbow into your face… You also have to be a bit more careful and take less risks or decide which ones are smarter… I’ve had to learn [that] it’s not always on to play out. Sometimes it’s smarter to kick the ball 60 yards down the field.”

At the international level, Tomkinson is eligible for the USMNT by birth and England through his Suffolk-born father. He made a few appearances with the former program’s U-17 and U-18 sides, all coming in 2019. The defender competed with the former squad at the Nike Friendlies, starting in matches against Turkey and the Netherlands. His hope is to work his way to the senior team during the current cycle and get a chance during the upcoming Olympics, but there has been limited contact since the cancellation of the 2021 U-20 World Cup.

A towering 6’4” right-side center back who can also line up at right back, Tomkinson is composed on the ball and capable of operating out of possession, open to hitting the long, diagonal pass but usually playing safely. The 20-year-old was an asset on set pieces at the reserve level and can sometimes claim a lot of headers, benefitting from his height advantage. Despite his size, he has struggled to win the physical battle against larger attackers, preferring to be the more finesse option in a pairing.

His best qualities were on display in the League Cup match against Bournemouth, taking on a distribution role and displaying poise when facing pressure, operating as a safety valve during sustained possession. His long stride allows him to chase through balls and close down opponents quickly when in pursuit, although head-on one-versus-one battles are an area for improvement. Sharing an agent with Rio and Anton Ferdinand, he counts the defenders as mentors who provide advice and support.

“He is not as strong in the air as I would like him to be,” said Jake Landau in a scouting report on the It’s Called Soccer channel. “However, his aggression and the way that he uses his body when he is trying to put his body between the ball and the man is really good. His passing ability, his awareness, and the way that he takes away two options at a time with his situational awareness with his positional play is really nice… He is able to identify which of the spaces is most dangerous to him and to his team.”

There will be a lot of speculation over the next year or two, attempting to discern which players are on a trajectory to make an impact at the 2026 World Cup. Tomkinson is still at a very early stage of his career with a mere three professional appearances. While talented, he has to undergo development and earn experience before being ready for the big stage. However, the defender has the benefit of lining up at a position of need with expected personnel turnover and opportunities for new faces.