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Did Hlongwane dodge a Mamelodi Sundowns bullet?

1:32 AM MYT 09/01/2022
Neo Maema, Mamelodi Sundowns & Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Maritzburg United, November 2021
The striker developed by Maritzburg United became an important player for the national team during their World Cup qualifying campaign

Bongokuhle Hlongwane's decision to shun Mamelodi Sundowns and instead sign for MLS side Minnesota United FC may well prove a wise call for the Bafana Bafana marksman.

Pacey, powerful, and with a lot of skill for a big man, Hlongwane is able to skin opponents at will - not only in the PSL, but also on the international stage.

He's certainly not the finished product though and it's only over the past 12-months that he's become a regular starter in the PSL for hometown club Maritzburg.

For one thing, he needs to add better numbers - stats and goals - to his name, which will hopefully come with experience. (He's played 57 top-flight matches and has scored eight goals and created seven assists.)

Hlongwane only made his PSL debut in April 2019 and is just 21-years-old.

The most important thing right now for this player with such vast potential is to be playing regularly, and while there is no guarantee of that with his new club, it's rather questionable how much game-time he would have received at Sundowns - Hlongwane was quoted this week as saying Downs had been chasing his signature.

He wouldn't have been the first player to have been lured to Chloorkop only to warm the bench, or not even make the matchday squad.

With a pecking order involving strikers such as Peter Shalulile, Kermit Erasmus, Themba Zwane, Pavol Safranko, Thabiso Kutumela and Gaston Sirino, well complemented by attacking midfielders such as Sibusiso Vilakazi, Neo Maema, Lebogang Maboe, Bradley Ralani and Thapelo Morena, a player still in his development phase like Hlongwane may have not got the game-time he needs.

In small-town Minnesota, the Nxamalala-born player won't be in the spotlight in the way he may have been in the Pretoria-Johannesburg hub, where distractions are aplenty.

Being so far away from home should help mature Hlongwane and assist in him totally immersing himself in his career.

A new club, formed in 2015, Minnesota joined the MLS in 2017 and last season, finished a credible fifth, out of 13 teams in the Western Conference. They also reached the US Open Cup final in 2019.

In a league which includes the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, previously of Real Madrid, Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Blaise Matuidi (PSG), ex-Man United pair Javier Hernandez and Nani, as well as former Tottenham hardman Victor Wanyama, the hope will be that Hlongwane fast-tracks his career.

And should he excel, a move to one of Europe's leagues should naturally follow for the talented former Nxamalala Fast XI forward - who still has plenty of time on his side. America could prove to be the perfect stepping stone.