Boyzzz electrifying United side
WASHINGTON -- D.C. United have traditionally looked south for inspiration, relying on Latin American imports like Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez to provide stylish passing and attacking flair. But last September the capital club added an even more exotic flavor to the mix, a player whose physical gifts and chaotic creativity aptly reflect his South African roots.Always moving, sometimes maddening, but never boring, Thabiso "Boyzzz" Khumalo has offered an intriguing change of pace for the United attack since his arrival in the late stages of the 2008 campaign.Growing up in the famed Soweto township outside Johannesburg, his bustling approach to the game impressed his father's friends and drew comparisons to a local street legend whose nickname was soon passed on to the young Khumalo, soon rendering his birth moniker a clerical detail.Downtrodden and neglected during the apartheid era, Soweto's residents nonetheless built a reputation for strength and resilience in the face of daunting poverty and that resourceful approach seems to have rubbed off on exports like Khumalo."I'm the type of player, I don't know what I'm going to do," he said with a smile this week. "I just do what comes to mind -- take people on, whatever."Lightning-fast, eager to run and spontaneous with the ball at his feet, the mercurial 28-year-old has proved capable of torturing opposing defenders and confused teammates in equal measure as he labored to add consistent, effective decision-making to his skills set."I think the great thing about Boyzzz is, you're never quite sure what he's going to do," said D.C. coach Tom Soehn. "But sometimes Boyzzz now has to realize that guys have to start knowing what he's doing at times. There's certain points of his game where he can simplify things and make it easier to bring other guys into the game."Though he stepped right into United's injury-hit lineup when he arrived on loan from USL-2 side Pittsburgh Riverhounds last year, 2009 offered up a host of new challenges as he struggled in the face of fierce competition for playing time this spring.He was repeatedly left off the gameday roster and after failing to earn a start in league play in the season's first three months, some observers wondered if he'd be cut to make room for midsummer signings and Khumalo himself admitted that his confidence hit a low ebb."Obviously you think about things like, 'Am I welcome here? Am I supposed to think about moving or staying?'" he admitted on Thursday. "I always thought that I could be on the team, so I had to be patient, wait for my time to come."Indeed, Khumalo has come on strong in recent weeks, making the most of his minutes in United's U.S. Open Cup exertions. Now he hopes to play a significant role in the busy days ahead as D.C. prepares to play seven matches in the next three weeks alone."You know, it just feels good to be back on the field," he said on Thursday. "Whenever I get the opportunity to play, I've got to use it, and go out there and perform and show that I'm here to do the job."He's also helped his own cause by absorbing plenty of instruction from Soehn and his staff, in film sessions as well as on the training ground."That obviously comes with experience, but it's also talking him through scenarios and going back and looking at it and saying, 'Look Boyzzz, this is what we should've done.' That's all part of the learning process," said Soehn. "But Boyzzz has been someone right now who's really stepped up his game and his energy at training. He's done a pretty good job."Khumalo will look to continue his progress at RFK Stadium on Saturday when United host the Colorado Rapids, the club that embarrassed D.C. last month in a 3-0 victory at Dick's Sporting Goods Park that likely ranks as United's worst display of the season."I'm just hungry to be on the field," he said. "Plus, these guys destroyed us when we went there. So when we go on the field it's going to be a totally different game. Hopefully we will get a win."