United buy American keeper

2008-08-12 00:00

IT’S a long way from Cleveland, Ohio, to Pietermaritzburg, but that is the adventurous move American goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap has made, signing yesterday on a two-year contract with Maritzburg United.

Gilstrap becomes the second goalkeeper signed by new United coach Gordon Igesund, who had high praise for the 25-year-old following his four-day trial last weekend.

Gilstrap joins new Namibian goalkeeper Athiel Mbaha and young prospect Tashreeq Goldman. This follows the slightly surprising release of Zimbabwean Dominic Sithole, who played in every minute of United’s successful promotion campaign last season.

For Gilstrap, the move to the Premier Soccer League comes in somewhat sudden fashion.

“I got a phone call from my Chicago-based agent, Eddie Rock, saying there is a club in South Africa that wants you to come on trial this weekend. I spoke to the club briefly and figured a trip to South Africa – ‘why not’.

“I didn’t know what to expect, then we had the friendly [against Thanda Royal Zulu] on Sunday and it went really well.

“I like the guys in the team. Apparently I have some language learning to do. In the game on Sunday I could communicate right away, but I also want to be able to get along with everyone off the field.”

Gilstrap returned yesterday to Cleveland where he will wrap up the 2008 season in the play-offs of the USL Second Division (two below the MLS), then return for the start of the PSL season.

Back home, the ‘keeper will join up with two team-mates with South African connections. Former Santos defender Musa Otieno joined the Stars in July, and midfielder Godfrey Tenoff is from Pietermaritzburg.

Gilstrap said the little he knows about South African football comes from those two team-mates. “They both told me that if I have an opportunity to come here it would be a good move for my career. As a goalkeeper, they felt I’d be able to make an impact right away.”

Gilstrap will be the second U.S. goalkeeper in the PSL after Ajax Cape Town’s impressive Morgan Cathey. The ‘keeper comes to South Africa with solid credentials – Gilstrap was the best goalkeeper in the Second Division and statistically best in U.S. soccer in 2007, and the 13th player on the First Division draft in 2006 with Miami FC.

Igesund said he believes Gilstrap can be a better signing than Cathey.

“Hunter was playing professional football in the U.S., while Morgan comes from college football. We did a lot of homework before we had a look at him. He’s very good in the air and his distribution is outstanding.”

Gilstrap impressed his new team-mates in the friendly against Thanda. United beat Uthukela on penalties in the semi-final of the pre-season tournament in Ladysmith, then Thanda 3-1 in the final.

New central defender Gary Goldstone said: “I think Hunter will give us a lot of options. He’s good in the air and commands his area well, and knowing you’ve got someone of his ability gives defenders more confidence.”

With just under three weeks until United’s opening fixture against Kaizer Chiefs in Durban, Igesund’s team is taking shape.

With the addition of Gilstrap, Goldstone, defender Bageta Dikilu, midfielder Junior Khanye and strikers Lucky Maselesele and Lebohang Kukame, the coach will aim to field a competitive line-up combined with the players retained from last season.


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