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Loons attacker Bongi Hlongwane trusting himself — and goals have followed

Loons manager Adrian Heath said Hlongwane’s thought process had been indicative of his shots to start the season.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Minnesota United FC  Hlongwane
Minnesota United forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane (middle) celebrates a goal on July 30, 2022, with forward Luis Amarilla (right) and midfielder Franco Fragapane (left) against the Portland Timbers in the first half at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Matt Blewett / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL — For Bongi Hlongwane, it became a question of right or left? The answer often ended up stuck in the same spot.

As Minnesota United’s new attacking midfielder played more than 1,000 minutes this season without a goal, it appeared, at times, he didn’t know, or couldn’t execute, which foot he wanted to use for a shot: his more-refined right boot or his left.

The indecision or lack of a final product was chalked up to the rawness of the 22-year-old South African in his first season in MLS; he is the club’s first addition in the new Under-22 Initiative to encourage investment in younger players.

After Hlongwane scored his first MLS goal against Houston on July 23, he shared his thought process.

“Because I’m right-footed, sometimes if I use my right, I want to do something fancy,” Hlongwane admitted. “But with my left, I just swing. If it goes, it goes. But if it goes over the bar, I don’t care. But with my right, I become disappointed and say ‘how?’ because this is my strongest foot. With the left, I shoot, and if it goes inside, it goes. I’ve scored a lot of goals with my left, beautiful ones, so I think my left is good.”

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Hlongwane’s strike against the Dynamo was with his left, and it was pretty. He matched it with a right-footed rebound smash in the 4-4 draw with the Portland Timbers last weekend. Those two goals in his last 100 minutes give him confidence going into Saturday night’s game at Colorado Rapids.

Loons manager Adrian Heath said Hlongwane’s thought process had been indicative of his shots to start the season. “I did say to him that he can’t overthink it like that because them moments are really fleeting when you get the opportunity,” Heath said before the Portland match. “You have to pull the trigger. If you double guess that or take another little touch to get it in the perfect spot, invariably the moment is gone.”

Hlongwane hasn’t dithered on his goal celebration. After each goal, he has extended his hands in front of his body and done a sort of pecking motion. When he scored against Timbers, fellow attackers Luis Amarilla and Franco Fragapane joined in.

“That is just a celebration; I used to do it here in training,” Hlongwane said last week, not offering much of an insight.

It becoming a group celebration was reminiscent of when Hlongwane joined in on Robin Lod’s Robin Hood-inspired arrow-shooting celebration after a goal earlier this season.

While Hlongwane had an extended drought before his first goal, his four assists helped buoy his confidence.

“The only thing I was focusing on was to help the team going forward because I said before, I’ve been getting chances, but I couldn’t convert them,” Hlongwane said. “What I told myself was I have to focus on my game. If I play well, I know that one day I will score.”

Hlongwane has endeared himself to teammates and fans alike in his first season. He has been invited to local events with ex-pat South Africans and often hangs out with the Loons’ Latino contingent.

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Before training Wednesday, Hlongawne pushed the ball from his right foot, past his left foot, then he laid down on the ball as if it were a pillow. The goofy move drew a laugh from teammate Emanuel Reynoso.

MORE MINNESOTA LOONS COVERAGE:
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Matt Navratil, a 26-year-old from Burnsville, Minnesota, is a diehard Loons fan and a season-ticket holder who travels with his parents, Scott and Chris, to a few road games each season.
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The Loons dealt with a steady stream of pressure, but made the most of their few opportunities to take all three points on the road.
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One of Dayne St. Clair’s first soccer memories is from roughly 20 years ago with him juggling a plastic balloon at his grandmother’s home in the Toronto area. The young Canadian wasn’t yet good enough with his feet to keep a heavier soccer ball aloft; he needed an inflatable orb that would hang in the air a bit longer.
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After signing a 2½-year contract with MNUFC through the 2024 season, with a club option for 2025, the 28-year-old Paraguayan has played in three games — an international friendly versus Everton, plus coming off the bench in two MLS games, wins over Houston and Portland.
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Loons coach Adrian Heath played for Everton in 1980s.
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Reynoso is heating up again, and the Argentine star has propelled the Loons to consecutive wins for the first time since mid-April.
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Benitez has played six seasons in Paraguay’s Primera Division, including the past two with Cerro Porteno in the capital city of Asuncion
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Miami rallies for two goals in final three minutes to stun Loons.
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If the goalkeeper isn’t voted in, he can be added by United manager Adrian Heath
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Minnesota United also working to send forward Adrien Hunou back to France

GARCIA OFFICIAL

MNUFC announced the transfer addition of Mender Garcia on Friday, saying the 24-year-old Colombian joins on a 1 1/2-year contract through the 2023 season, with club options for 2024 and 2025.

Garcia is a restricted Designated Player, meaning the club can buy down his contract in order for him to vacate one of the three coveted roster spots exempted from the MLS salary budget.

Garcia, who will occupy an international roster spot, had not arrived in the U.S. as of Friday afternoon, leaving his Loons debut unlikely for Saturday. Heath has been holding out hope for Garcia to be available against Rapids.

BRIEFLY

During its seven-game unbeaten streak, Minnesota has scored 2.5 goals per game. They were averaging 1.0 goals per game in the prior 17 matches this season. … Loons midfielder Kervin Arriaga (ankle) was listed as questionable on the club’s availability report Friday. If the Honduran can’t play, Minnesota would be down another player in the team’s spine. Reynoso, Robin Lod and Michael Boxall are suspended due to yellow-card accumulation.

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Related Topics: MINNESOTA UNITED FCSOCCER
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