Lucky Mkosana '12 drafted by Fire

by Manisha Apte | 1/12/12 11:00pm

by Samantha Oh and Samantha Oh / The Dartmouth

When forward Lucky Mkosana '12 points to this game as one of his favorite memories from his Dartmouth soccer career, one might be surprised to look at the box score and find that Mkosana's name a regular in the goals and assists columns is glaringly absent. After all, Mkosana finished his senior season with a total of 34 career goals and 79 career points both school records to go along with a slew of awards and accolades, most notably Ivy League Player of the Year in 2011.

But those that know Mkosana, who was drafted in the second round of Thursday's MLS SuperDraft by the Chicago Fire, would not be shocked to hear that one of his proudest moments in a Big Green jersey was in a game in which he neither scored nor assisted, but rather one in which the whole team succeeded, as Dartmouth progressed on to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

"Lucky is always thinking about playing for the team first and foremost," head coach Jeff Cook said. "I have been in college coaching for 20 years and the best players are the most humble. Lucky's humility is what draws him to people."

Mkosana is certainly one of the best players Dartmouth fans have been able to call their own, but outside of the Ivy League, his speed, skill and ability to deliver mesmerizing goals were relatively unknown. Now, however, a wider audience will be introduced to his skill set after the Fire selected him as 23rd overall pick at the SuperDraft, held in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday. His selection comes after a strong performance in the 2012 adidas MLS Player Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he was one of 52 college seniors invited to play.

"I'm really excited right now," Mkosana said. "It is just unbelievable, and I can't believe this is happening. I'm just really thankful to everyone who supported me, like my coaches and my teammates, and I'm just really grateful for everything."

Mkosana's next hurdle is now a scheduling one, as his preseason begins next week, with the team's first match on March 17. Heading into his fourth term taking four classes, Mkosana is looking to graduate at the end of Winter term.

At the combine, held Jan. 6-10, Mkosana played with adiPower, one of four teams formed for MLS coaches and scouts to make final assessments before the draft.

Mkosana wasted no time making an impression, as he came off the bench in the second half of his first game to score and then later feed an assist for the game-winner in a 3-2 win over team Prime. Mkosana is no stranger to game-winning goals, as he scored three for the Big Green last season.

On day three of the combine, Mkosana returned to the scorecard after he settled a long ball from the defensive end and finished it to open scoring in a 4-1 victory.

After his strong display, Mkosana saw that blogs were writing positive posts about his play, and while that gave him confidence for the upcoming draft, he still made sure to leave room for disappointment, he said.

At Dartmouth, Mkosana's ability to read other players, combined with his speed, has allowed him to appear at the right place at the right time and coolly take control of the ball. Past teammates with whom he "connected" particularly well include Craig Henderson '09, Dan Keat '10 and Maarten van Ess '12, Mkosana said.

"Maarten and I had a great connection because he's so tall and he's really good in the air, so he can get the ball to me," Mkosana said.

Both Henderson and Keat have each had their own experiences with the combine while Henderson declined to attend the event and instead signed with Mjallby AIF in Sweden, Keat participated and was drafted by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Supplemental Draft in 2011, making him a potential future opponent for Mkosana.

Prior to this year's combine, Keat gave Mkosana advice on how to approach and handle the event, while Henderson also sent him an email wishing him luck, Mkosana said.

"That really means a lot to me that they are still supporting me, even though we no longer play together," he said.

Mkosana will also draw support from van Ess and the rest of his Dartmouth teammates, who are glad to see him take his skills to the next level.

"We know he can match high expectations, and we love to pass him on," van Ess said. "In any elite program we've come up against, he doesn't shy away from the competition. It brings out the best in Lucky."

Mkosana's recent experience at the combine is not his first brush with high-stakes tryouts. He still recalls his first exhibition game for Cook, in his home country of Zimbabwe. Playing in what was a "life-changing game," Mkosana showcased his abilities for Cook, who had traveled to look for potential new team members.

"One of my closest friends is Lucky's uncle, who is a '97 and played here when I was an assistant coach," Cook said. "When we were talking about new possibilities, I was very excited to see Lucky play and learn about him as a student."

This was almost six years ago, and since then Mkosana has worked hard and become a big part of the soccer program at Dartmouth, Cook said.

While Mkosana's impressive statistics tell part of the story, he also possesses a more subtle skill that cannot be as easily quantified but nevertheless defines his style of technical play.

"If [Lucky] does anything cool, it is diski,'" van Ess said. "It means bringing flair or creativity to the team that normally isn't brought because Ivy League soccer is very conventional and doesn't allow for freedom of movement. Lucky brings diski plays to his game, whether intentionally or unintentionally."

Regardless of Mkosana's source of inspiration, the Fire's future opponents can expect to become familiar with diski soccer from Dartmouth's all-time leading scorer.

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