Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

South Africa and Soccer

Posted in Current Events,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the June 23rd, 2010

Watching the World Cup matches from South Africa–including this morning’s anxiety-provoking U.S. 1-0 victory over Algeria to advance us into the second round–and reading Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, I’ve frequently been reminded of my teen-age years, spent as a fervent follower of the North American Soccer League’s Minnesota Kicks. Several of the Arsenal players that show up in Hornby’s memoir–Geoff Barnett and Charley George, for starters–played for the beloved Kicks. Certainly the greatest sports moment of my youth was the evening I watched the Kicks demolish the dreaded New York Cosmos 9-2 in a playoff game, with Alan Willey alone scoring five goals for us.

Watching the games from South Africa, I’ve been in particular fondly recalling #11, midfielder Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe, probably the finest South African footballer of all time. The BBC recently named him “The Greatest Player You Never Saw,” but if you were a Minnesota soccer fan in the late 1970s, you were lucky enough to witness his remarkable dribbling and passing skills. I remember in particular a spectacular scissors kick shot on goal from 1977: it didn’t go in, unfortunately, but it was one of the flashiest moves I’ve ever seen. Ace was the heart of the Kicks from 1976-1981–and he returned home to South Africa in the off-season to play for the Kaiser Chiefs there (or was it the other way around? Were we the off-season team?). He scored more than fifty goals in his Minnesota years, and for budding soccer players and fans in the Upper Midwest, he was our primary model for what made the beautiful game so pretty.

Ntsoelengoe sadly passed away from a heart attack in 2006. How much he would have enjoyed watching his own national team knocking off the French yesterday! Sigh.

Forgive my bout of wistful nostalgia, please, and return with me now to 1978 and Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, for a fine late summer’s night dream.

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