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From Doctor Khumalo to Nkosinathi Nhleko ... 6 top South Africans to play in the MLS

Doctor Khumalo played for Colombus Crew in the MLS. Picture: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Doctor Khumalo played for Colombus Crew in the MLS. Picture: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Published Jan 15, 2022


Durban - Bafana Bafana star Bongokuhle Hlongwane recently earned a move to Minnesota United in the United States on the back of some impressive displays in the Premiership for Maritzburg United and internationally for South Africa.

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The United States men’s national team may not be among the elite football nations but they are continuously improving. Hlongwane has a good platform upon which to develop and potentially attract bigger clubs in Europe.

The fact that MLS club Toronto FC recently reached an agreement to sign Lorenzo Insigne who was a key component of the Italy squad that won the European Championship last year suggests that they are moving in the right direction.

ALSO READ: New MLS rule means more South African youngsters can follow Bongokuhle Hlongwane to the US

The KwaZulu-Natal-born Hlongwane is not the first and unlikely to be the last South African to play in the US. The following are six very well-known South Africans who did.

Kamohelo Mokotjo. Picture: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Kamohelo Mokotjo (FC Cincinnati)

Mokotjo initially raised eyebrows when he captained the SA U-12 team to the Dannone Cup title in France back in 2003. After leaving South Africa as a teenager, Mokotjo has spent the vast majority of his career in the Netherlands. He did have also a successful three-year spell in England with then Championship team Brentford before moving to FC Cincinnati in 2020 where he has remained since.

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Shaun Bartlett (Colorado Rapids and MetroStars)

The Bafana Bafana legend earned his first move abroad in 1996, moving to the Colorado Rapids in the US before being traded to MetroStars in July 1997. Overall, the former striker’s time in the US was not a success as he soon returned to Cape Town Spurs before embarking on successful spells in Europe with FC Zurich and Charlton Athletic where he had some of the best memories of his career.

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Shaun Bartlett of Cape Town Spurs during the 1997-98 season. Picture: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Nkosinathi Nhleko (FC Dallas)

After setting the PSL alight with Jomo Cosmos as a youngster, Nhleko attracted the interest of clubs abroad. However, his career was not to go according to plan. While he did score goals for most of the clubs that he played for, he ended up being a journeyman and was never able to replicate the consistency he showed with Cosmos as a youth.

Nhleko spent two years in the US with FC Dallas which summarized his career. He did score for the club but was not consistent.

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Danleigh Borman (New York Red Bulls)

Borman was a strange case. He was a success in the US but failed in South Africa. He moved to the US as a youth player, beginning his professional career there with the Rhode Island Stringrays. The Cape Town-born player then had a successful three-year spell with New York Red Bulls where he played alongside Thierry Henry and helped the club win the 2008 MLS Western Conference Championship.

After a modest spell with Toronto FC, Borman returned to his homeland of South Africa, having spells with SuperSport United, Mpumalanga Black Aces and Vasco da Gama. However, his return to South Africa is best forgotten as he was unable to re-adapt and it led to his career fizzling out prematurely.

Doctor Khumalo (Colombus Crew)

After a short spell in Argentina of all places with Ferro Carril Oeste, the former midfield maestro and Kaizer Chiefs legend moved to the US with Columbus Crew in 1996. His time in the US was just under two years but he flew the SA flag high with some solid performances in midfield, scoring five goals and chipping in with three assists. He then returned to his beloved Chiefs where he ended his career.

Davide Somma (San Jose Earthquakes)

He spent more time off the field than on it due to injuries but Somma is an interesting character. He is of Italian heritage, was born in South Africa and grew up in the United States.

After starting his professional career in the Italian lower leagues, Somma embarked on a short-term spell with the San Jose Earthquakes before joining Leeds United. During his time with Leeds, he earned the admiration of South African football legend Lucas Radebe and earned three Bafana appearances.

Unfortunately for Somma, injuries ended his career effectively in his mid-20s. He now works as a coach in the USA.