D.C. United forward Thabiso Khumalo considered quitting soccer earlier this year while back in his native South Africa. He’d played for a handful of lower-league teams in America and even done a stint in Egypt.
“People kept promising me things - ‘OK, we’ll take you here, we’ll take you there’- but they never came through,” Khumalo said. “I almost quit.”
Then a friend playing at the third-division Pittsburgh Riverhounds suggested he come back to the United States and give the club a try.
“It was like a calling from God,” Khumalo said.
The 27-year-old scored six goals in 20 games with the Riverhounds. Then earlier this month, United signed Khumalo on a three-month loan.
“This is a very big step compared to what I’m used to,” Khumalo said. The Chicago Fire drafted him in 2005, but he never played a game for them.
Khumalo has been one of the United’s bright spots in the four games he’s played.
“He’s a guy that has given us a lot of minutes in this stretch,” United coach Tom Soehn said. “He’s got some qualities which are very good for our team as far as his work rate, his ability to touch the ball, and he has some pace behind it.”
Khumalo joined United’s starting lineup as soon as he arrived, and he has played a variety of roles. As a striker, he set up a goal for Jaime Moreno in the 2-2 tie with FC Dallas. He played 90 minutes against Saprissa in the Champions League. And as a midfielder, he scored a goal in United’s 5-2 loss at the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sept. 20. He also helped out the defense when United went a man down in the game.
“I didn’t even see [David] Beckham on the field I was so busy,” Khumalo said. “I had friends who said I would never score in MLS.”
On the road in Honduras on Sept. 24, he played as a central midfielder against Marathon and had two of United’s scoring best chances.
Nicknamed “Boyzzz,” Khumalo came to the United States as an exchange student from the township of Soweto. He lived with a host family in Bardstown, Ky., and became a star youth player.
He hopes to win a contract with United.
“Right now I’m just here for three months and I don’t know what will happen next year,” he said
Khumalo can’t look that far ahead. For now, he is focused on United’s match with FC Dallas on Sunday.
“We’ve got to go there with an offensive mind,” Khumalo said.
United owns a 3-0 record against Dallas since the Texas club moved to Pizza Hut Park. United (10-12-3, 42 points) is winless in six games, however, since claiming the U.S. Open Cup on Sept. 9. The team has given up 13 goals in that span.
“If we don’t pull this together, we won’t make the playoffs,” Moreno said.
Dallas (7-9-9, 30 points) is coming off a 4-1 win at the Chicago Fire in which forward Jeff Cunningham earned his 102nd and 103rd goals in league play.
After Sunday’s game, United has little time to prepare for Wednesday’s Champions League game against Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul at RFK Stadium.
Team notes - Marc Burch is suspended for the Dallas game after he received a controversial red card for a kick on Beckham in the loss at the Galaxy.