Kgatlana, a final-year BA student, joins her Banyana Banyana captain, Janine van Wyk, and teammate Linda Motlhalo, at the Texan club to play in the US National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). To help with homesickness, not only is the club coached by former Banyana Banyana coach Vera Pauw, but there's a number of former UWC Ladies teammates who play for different colleges and universities across the USA (including Kelso Peskin who's Lamar University is based near Houston).
It is the second time that Johannesburg-born Kgatlana has put her studies on hold to focus on her football career, having sacrificed 2016 to try to realise her childhood dream of going to the Olympic Games.
Recalling the moment when Pauw asked her to join her team in the US, after Banyana Banyana played Sweden in a friendly in Cape Town earlier this year, Kgatlana says, “It’s an opportunity I just could not say no to. My goal was always to be picked up by a professional team after the Olympics.”
Although she is grabbing the opportunity, she intends completing her degree and has arranged with the University to return in the near future. “I know it’s going to be difficult being away from home, from family and from the people who understand me,” she says. “But I got an opportunity that I always wanted and I will have to adapt, rise to the occasion and show the world my talents.”
The prodigiously talented footballer has received many accolades. She was shortlisted in January for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Women’s Player of the Year Award, was chosen as the University Sport South Africa Woman Player of the Tournament for two consecutive years, and was named as the COSAFA Women’s Cup Player of the tournament last year.
The UWC sporting sensation launched the Thembi Kgatlana Football Tournament last year in her birthplace Mohlakeng in Randfontein, Johannesburg. Proceeds from the event were used to buy soccer balls and sanitary pads that were donated to schools, and blankets that were distributed to old age homes.