Get to know: Mamba Chisoni

Mamba Chisoni

Mubarike ‘Mamba’ Chisoni has a brilliant story to tell.

It starts in Africa and follows an incredible, against-all-odds journey to become an MLS Cup champion with LA Galaxy.

He has always been a down-to-earth character, from first kicking a ball to joining South Bend Lions as part of the coaching team, and he has shared some of the important lessons that he learned along the way.

“I want people to see me as an example that you can do it,” he said. “There is no magic wand; it’s there in front of you, and putting more into the game can change your life.

“Soccer was the only sport in Bulawayo [Zimbabwe] and I started playing when I was five – I was very small, so I was always one of those kids who was left behind because I wasn’t physical. But I kept working hard, trying to prove myself.

“I didn’t want to talk about myself when I was coming through; I put it all aside and took every next step as a new adventure, and then I’d let people talk about me when I was done.

“That’s the biggest thing that has got me to where I am.”

Having recently completed his USSF A License, the 39-year-old is now part of an elite group of soccer coaches.

His playing career started just after finishing his O Levels, when Chisoni secured a contract with local semi-professional club Highlanders – a move that did not come without its challenges.

“The club was based in the south of the city, but I grew up in the northern part, meaning they spoke a different language to me.

“That was something I had to buy into because Highlanders was a community club, and you had to speak the language to play for the team and be successful.

“While playing for the U-20s, I received a call-up to the national team. It was nerve-racking because I was 19 years old, but playing for my country is something I will never forget.

“Life was very good; I’d go into the city and everyone would recognize me. But things were changing back home and I wanted something new.

“I didn’t want to end up like some of my teammates who, being in a third world country, didn’t receive a lot of treatment when they were injured.”

Chisoni’s ambition prompted him to move to Kentucky in 2001, where he won an NAIA National Championship in his only season with Lindsey Wilson College.

“I didn’t want to talk about myself when I was coming through; I put it all aside and took every next step as a new adventure.”

Mamba Chisoni

He then bagged 27 goals and 24 assists in three years at Coastal Carolina University and was even more prolific in the Premier Development League (PDL) – now USL League Two – with Cocoa Expos and Indiana Invaders, before being picked from the Major League Soccer (MLS) SuperDraft to represent LA Galaxy in 2005.

“Back then, playing in the PDL to get drafted in MLS was the only option, and it’s still very important today.

“To be ready for MLS, you need to go through Path2Pro – going to a club where you learn how to be a professional. It’s a great path if you put the effort in.

“It’s a job playing at the professional level, as you always have to be switched on. If you didn’t feel well or didn’t want to practice, you were never going to play.

“You had to always perform well, whether for the reserves or the first team, but you are working while doing something you love.

“We [LA Galaxy] won the 2005 US Open Cup against FC Dallas, but winning the MLS Cup was the biggest achievement as nobody expected us to do it. I’ll never take it for granted.

“Landon Donovan was a great example to follow, and just being a professional in a different culture was fun.”

Chisoni transferred to Portland Timbers in the USL First Division and finished his playing career with the Invaders in 2010, where he was also technical director before becoming an assistant coach to Pinto at Bethel Pilots.

He has joined South Bend Lions having been involved in community soccer for more than a decade and now aims to provide young people with the opportunity to make a living from the game he loves.

“With the pay-to-play system in the US, parents with low income can’t allow their kids to get involved, but we need to change that so everyone can be part of the family.

“My time at the Invaders was good but it didn’t satisfy the whole community. It’s a different approach at South Bend where everyone is involved, and that’s important if you are going to be a community team.

“We are a very diverse city where not everybody knows the game, but a lot of people are excited about our new adventure.

“The day after the club’s announcement, my son insisted on taking the [club] scarf to school with him and he and his friends were very excited. He’s only eight but wants to play for the club right now.

“I’ve been involved in club soccer for a long time so I know the landscape very well, and this club has been the missing piece for everyone.”