South African soccer star drops studies for dream move to the US

2018-02-22 11:04
PHOTO: Supplied

PHOTO: Supplied

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Banyana Banyana striker Thembi Kgatlana has to drop her final year in Bachelor of Arts: Tourism at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) to pursue her soccer dreams in America.

The 21-year-old is the latest SA signing for US-based Houston Dash as she joins Linda Motlhalo and Janine van Wyk.  Last weekend Safa announced that Kgatlana had signed a one-year contract with Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

“I have been waiting for this opportunity for far too long since my sterling performance in the [Rio] Olympics two years ago. I am super-excited about my move to Dash. To be honest, I thought I was going to get a deal immediately after the Rio Olympics but nothing came my way – so here we are, two years later my dream is becoming a reality. But I never lost hope.  I knew my performance would take me to another level,” Kgatlana said.

Kgatlana – who was born in Mohlakeng, a township west of Johannesburg – said she wasn’t feeling bad about her decision to drop her possible long-term career in tourism for a short-term soccer move. “It’s an opportunity I cannot miss. It’s an opportunity that counts more. This doesn’t mean soccer is more important than education but I can still study in the near future,” Kgatlana said. Pikinini as she’s affectionately known among her teammates has an agreement with UWC to come back and finish her studies within five years.

“Education will always be the key to the future; there’s no doubt about that. I am not dropping out and it’s not the first time I had to put my studies on hold as I did it when we were in an Olympic preparation programme. It’s not easy for me to focus on both my career and studies but I have always wanted to move so that’s why I grabbed this opportunity with both hands.”

Kgatlana started playing soccer at the age of eight with boys but her mother wasn’t happy with her hobby until she was selected to play for the Under-17 national team.  The former UWC ladies’ striker is also happy to be reunited with former Banyana head coach and now Dash coach Vera Pauw who approached her to join the team. “When Vera called me [last December] I was so shocked and super-excited and I am happy to have her as a coach again – I won’t disappoint her faith in me,” Kgatlana said.

Kgatlana, Motlhalo and Van Wyk have been called up for the Banyana Banyana squad that will play in the Cyprus Women’s Cup, which runs from 28 February to 7 March.  What’s more exciting for Kgatlana is she and Motlhalo will join Van Wyk on a flight to USA immediately after the tournament to join their new teammates.

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