Thembi Kgatlana scores maiden goal as Dash beat Pride
Thembi Kgatlana will hope that her first goal for Houston Dash in the National Women's Soccer League is the first of many, as the South Africa international looks to fulfill her potential in the toughest league in women's football.
Kgatlana netted a late third for the Dash as they beat a star-studded Orlando Pride, who feature the likes of Marta and Alex Morgan, 3-1 on Wednesday night. The win keeps the Dash's playoff hopes alive, as they're five points adrift from the critical fourth spot.
As she has done for much of this season, Kgatlana came off the bench as an impact player and delivered, as she sped away from the Pride defence and provided a calm finish, putting the cherry on top of England striker Rachel Daly's brace.
"Thembi brings that something a bit different to the team - very fast, skillful, she can create a chance out of nothing," Dash coach Vera Pauw told KweséESPN recently.
Banyana Banyana skipper Janine van Wyk, who was the first of the South Africans to sign for the Dash, in 2017, added: "Coach Vera calls Thembi 'The Roadrunner' because she feels she is probably the fastest player in the league at the moment.
"She finds herself alone in front of goal so often because of her pace. That's obviously what coach Vera wants in her team, is for us to have a really good attacking force."
For Kgatlana, who has put her studies at the University of the Western Cape on hold to pursue a professional career in football, playing in the NWSL is the culmination of a childhood ambition.
"It's a dream I have been working towards for the whole of my life, since I started playing as an eight-year-old," the 22-year-old told KweséESPN upon her arrival in the US in April.
"Working my way through the junior national teams, then to the senior national team. It has been a long and a hard road, but I am here now.
"I had to drop out of school in my final year to get that opportunity to wear a professional jersey and to be in the fold to win a contract with a big club. I hope that it motivates a lot of girls back home to show that anything is possible and dreams do come through."
Kgatlana admitted that the step-up from the amateur league in South Africa to the professional set-up in the United States had been tougher than expected.
"It is all about learning and adapting quickly. In life you face challenges and it is up to you what you do with those. In South Africa there is no professional league and it is easier to become star there," she said. "Here you really have to work hard, everyone is professional and most have been playing at this level for quite a while.
"They have the experience and it is going to take time for me to be able to adapt in the league and be able to play my own game. I'm up for the challenge."