If Lucky Mkosana seems a little more exhausted than most rookies at the Chicago Fire’s training camp, forgive him. After practice, he has homework to do.
The forward from Dartmouth is working to finish his degree in human geography by March 12 while he tries to make the Fire’s roster in a position that already goes five deep.
The 24-year-old Zimbabwean (above, left) has been traveling back and forth from Hanover, N.H., to the Fire’s training camp for the past few weeks, forcing him to split himself between earning the credits he needs to graduate and impressing Frank Klopas enough to merit a place in the squad.
“It’s been hard,” Mkosana told MLSsoccer.com last week via phone from Chicago’s training camp in Ventura, Calif., before leaving to do statistics homework. “I try to put my focus on soccer in the meantime, and then when I have to focus on school, work hard on that.”
No doubt, the month of February has been a difficult one for Mkosana, both mentally and physically.
Fortunately, the team that plays more than 8,000 miles away from his hometown of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, isn’t completely foreign to him. Forward Kheli Dube (above, right) is also from Bulawayo, and the two have known each other since Mkosana was a freshman in college and Dube was playing for the New England Revolution.
Mkosana reached out to Dube after finding out the two attended the same high school, and they’ve kept in touch for the past four years. Mkosana made the 150-mile drive from Dartmouth to Gillette Stadium to watch Dube play a few times.
In a twist of fate, eight days after the Fire drafted Mkosana, they signed Dube, whose rights they acquired in the Re-Entry Draft.
“I was really pumped,” Mkosana said. “I went to visit him in Boston, but now I get to be close to him every day. He’s really mentored me, and he knows that I’m working hard on school.”
Dube is the only Zimbabwean player that is officially signed in MLS, so having a fellow Bulawayo native on his team is special. After not hanging around many fellow Zimbabweans during their time in the United States, the two can speak in their native language, Ndebele.
“It’s pretty cool,” Dube told MLSsoccer.com. “We can speak in our language and feel at home.”
Still, it doesn’t all come easy for Mkosana. Klopas has seen the toll the extra work and time away from camp have taken on the speedy forward. There’s still no guarantee he’ll make the team.
“In every camp, he’s been here only two or three days,” Klopas said during a conference call last week. “It’s almost like when he leaves and comes back, the process starts over. I think he needs to be with us all the time. I think in the right environment, he’s got the characteristics to develop into a good player.”
Mkosana has a little more than a week before he’ll be able to comply with his coach’s wishes. He will join the team in Charleston this week before returning to Dartmouth for final exams on March 2.
Dube thinks his countryman deserves a shot.
“He’s a smart kid, and he’s got speed, too,” Dube said. “One thing about him, he works hard, and when you work hard, it shows over the course of the season.”