Players follow the money to the USA but what does it mean for SA soccer?

South African players are finding a new home in the unlikeliest of places, the Major League Soccer (MLS) in the USA.

Bongokuhle Hlongwane stunned the Mzansi fraternity when, in the middle of the 2022/23 season, he left Maritzburg United and flew across the Atlantic Ocean to join Minnesota United.

There’s also the relatively unknown Katlego “Tsiki” Ntsabeleng, who had been in the US for longer but signed his MLS contract round about the same time as Hlongwane.

Ntsabeleng is in the books of FC Dallas In December, Njabulo Blom followed suit after he had a salary deadlock with Kaizer Chiefs.

To everyone’s surprise, Amakhosi announced that Blom had signed a contract with MLS club St Louis City, coached by former Chiefs left-back Bradley Carnel.

This week, Mamelodi Sundowns revealed that their young goal scoring machine Cassius Mailula had attracted interest from a club in the MLS.

Mailula did not travel with the Sundowns squad for their off-season trip to the Netherlands as he is probably dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s in his contract negotiations.

As if that was not enough, Stellenbosch FC’s teenage defender Olwethu Makhanya also found himself a home in the land of the milk and honey.

He joined Philadelphia Union, signing a deal until 2025, that has an option to renew until 2027. It is really enchanting for the players, and with the current dollar and rand exchange rate, they will, of course, make a bit of money.

They will also play in a sports-mad country with the best facilities in the world. In the US, sport is not taken for granted and the corporate world invests millions of dollars into various sporting activities.

Technically, they will be playing in a better league than the PSL – we must just forget about the hogwash that our league is among the top 10 leagues in the world. The players will be campaigning in a better organised environment, and will know what professionalism is all about.

But the question that we should be asking ourselves is whether this is good for the growth and enhancement of SA football, in the bigger scheme of things.

Can the MLS, known for attracting over-the-hill superstars for the sale of jerseys and merchandise, assist Hugo Broos and the SA national cause of reviving Bafana Bafana?

The American national team is still light ages behind from being one of the most enterprising teams in the world of football, so, what is it that our boys are going to absorb?

Is this the right route for our players to take because if it is just for personal gain, then I understand wholeheartedly. Back in the 1990s, there was an influx of SA players to the Turkish super league.

The likes of Steve Komphela, Fani Madida, Helman Mkhalele, Donald “Ace” Khuse, Lebo Morula, Pollen “Trompies” Ndlanya, Teboho Moloi and Maimane Phiri, to mention but a few, all had stints in the eastern European country without much success or achievements.

Besides coming back home with a few million dollars in their pockets, they did not play much of a bigger role in Bafana Bafana, except for the twinkle-toed John “Shoes” Moshoeu, who had a sterling 1996 Afcon tournament.

While this is encouraging and a step in the right direction, we must work hard to get our players in competitive leagues in Europe and South America.

And that’s the only way we can close the gap between us and Morocco and west African giants such as Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria in the quest to regain respect on the continent.

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