FRISCO, Texas – The 2010 FIFA World Cup was a turning point in the life and career of new FC Dallas midfielder Tsiki Ntsabeleng (pronounced Seekee Ensa-beleng).
Ntsabeleng was 12 years old when Spain and the Netherlands contested the World Cup final in his hometown of Johannesburg, South Africa. Spain claimed its first World Cup crown with a 1-0 win that would help solidify its Golden Generation – epitomized by small, technically gifted midfielders – as one of the best international sides the game has ever seen.
And for Ntsabeleng, the Spanish victory proved he had a place in the sport.
“For most part of my career, I was told I was too small to play,” said Ntsabeleng, who now stands at 5-foot-6. “But when I saw a team like Spain, with all short players winning the World Cup, it kind of gave me motivation and showed that it’s possible for everybody despite their size. And for me, that's the biggest inspiration I got really. Even if you're a small player, it doesn't matter. If you work hard, you can still achieve your dreams.”
Ntsabeleng was first introduced to the sport by his father, River Ntsabeleng. The young Ntsabeleng even slept with a soccer ball on his pillow in those days. “I think that’s how I truly fell in love with the game,” he says.
At 14, Ntsabeleng joined the Stars of Africa Football Academy where he stayed for two years before joining the reserve team of Kaizer Chiefs, one of the larger clubs in the South African Premier Division. His next stop was the University of Johannesburg where he was spotted by South Africa’s youth scouts and invited to the U-20 national team. And that’s where Ntsabeleng’s continent-spanning journey began.
Another Johannesburg native, Kyle Timm, watched Ntsabeleng compete for the U-20s and was impressed enough to offer the 19-year-old a scholarship to the University of Coastal Carolina where Timm was an assistant coach at the time. Ntsabeleng played two seasons for the Chanticleers and graduated with a degree in Sports and Fitness Administration. Although he now had a diploma in hand, Ntsabeleng still wanted to chase his dream and reach the professional level. But he knew there were some built-in obstacles.
“When (Costal Carolina) offered me a scholarship, they told me the path to get to the pros. They told me the challenges I might have as an international player. All pro teams only have a certain amount of international spots on their team which may make it a little bit difficult for me. But I understood the task and I was ready to move on and get to work.”
After earning his degree, Ntsabeleng enrolled in a graduate program at Oregon State University where he would have two successful seasons with the Beavers. With an All-Pac-12 First Team recognition to his name, Ntsabeleng entered the 2022 MLS SuperDraft where was taken 29th overall by FC Dallas.
“Once I saw my name (drafted), I was speechless. I didn’t know how to react,” he said. “It’s like a dream come true. I’ve been working so hard for this, so to see it happen right in front of me, it’s amazing.”
Despite his international status or any concerns over his size, Ntsabeleng was offered his first pro contract less than a month after joining FCD’s preseason training camp.
“He's very dynamic type of player. Really good energy. He plays with good tempo,” Dallas head coach Nico Estévez said. “And then his ability to be balanced with the ball while dribbling makes him a special player. And that’s what we saw before the draft. And this is what we're seeing so far in preseason. I think he's progressing in the right way. And he has earned his spot with us.”
“(This contract) means a lot to me, especially for me and my dad,” Ntsabeleng said. “He taught me to always believe in hard work and sacrifice. This contract is dedicated to him. This means a lot to me and my family and it's once step closer to the other big goals I have in life.”
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