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Siyadhuba's American Dream morphs into MLS desire

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Siyadhuba's dreams become reality at SHU (3:42)

Ezra Siyadhuba left Zimbabwe to chase his dreams of playing soccer in America and found a new home at Sacred Heart University. (3:42)

Just by studying at Sacred Heart University, let alone turning out for their soccer team, Bulawayo-born Ezra Siyadhuba is living a dream he nursed since childhood.

Former Bantu Rovers star Siyadhuba has featured for the Connecticut-based Pioneers since 2014, winning over those around him with his talent and sheer application, along with his cheerful personality in the dressing room.

Known more as a left-sided midfielder during his formative years at Bantu, the versatile star has since transformed into a polished left-back at Sacred Hearts. And while he readily acknowledges the value of a sound education for his long-term future, the level-headed 23-year-old remains determined to fully exploit his footballing potential.

The realisation of one dream, studying in the US, has also been the beginning of another, and Siyadhuba has set his sights on becoming only the sixth Zimbabwean to grace Major League Soccer (MLS).

Playing in MLS would be an achievement which would see him join an elite group consisting of his idol Joseph Ngwenya, as well as Vitalis Takawira, Mubariki Chisoni, Mkhokeli Dube, and Neathan Gibson, who are the only Zimbabweans to have played in the US top-flight.

"That's, like, my first goal. To be in the MLS," Siyadhuba told ESPN in a recent interview.

"[But] if it doesn't work out I really want to continue playing soccer. A lot of players from Sacred Heart University didn't go straight to MLS after school. They went outside the country to play and showcase their talents. If MLS doesn't work out I would love to play outside the country or in lower tier leagues in the US."

Yet merely being at a US University is testimony to Siyadhuba's willpower and doggedness in pursuit of lofty ambitions. After watching Ngwenya strut his stuff in Bulawayo before going to study and play in the States on a scholarship (and then on to MLS with the Houston Dynamos, predominantly), Siyadhuba decided that was also the path he wanted his life to follow.

And while a future in MLS remains a tantalising dream for now, what is not in doubt is Siyadhuba's quality and adaptability on the pitch, with Sacred Heart coach Joe Barroso lauding his ability to "dominate" and "play both sides of the field."

Upon his arrival in the United States in 2013, Siyadhuba first enrolled at Taft School, from where he caught the eye of, and was subsequently recruited by, Sacred Heart.

"He was playing at a high level, you could see that he was coming from another place and that he was going to be good enough to play Division one college soccer, for sure," Barroso said. "Ezra just stood out and right from there I knew I was interested in recruiting him, as other schools were. We weren't the only school interested."

Sacred Heart have since profited from Siyadhuba's versatility, but it is in the left-back position that he seems to have finally settled, proving a perfect fit for a role which demands ball-winning skills, technique, and a well-developed sense of positioning.

Siyadhuba, who played alongside Zimbabwe international stars Kuda Mahachi and Marvellous Nakamba at Bantu, has been improving with each year since enrolling at Sacred Heart, making 14 starts in 15 appearances last year.

Former Zimbabwe international Menthembe Ndlovu, who himself studied and played in the USA before returning home to form Siyadhuba's old club Bantu, is not surprised at his product's continuing progression.

"He was a good player, very disciplined, hard-working, good technique, quality crosses and also a good finisher when he did get an opportunity. He worked hard on and off the field in terms of his soccer and his academics," Ndlovu says.

Since 2008, Bantu have sent nine players to study and play football in the USA, Ndlovu said, adding: "Siyadhuba is a shining example within that group but there are also other boys that I think have the potential to go far in football."

Siyadhuba remains in touch with his idol Ngwenya, who is now working for Barclays Bank in New York, and still values the advice he gave him to "not to only focus on soccer."

Ngwenya encouraged him to "focus on getting good grades, focus on being good around the community, helping each other. Just because those things, once soccer is done, those are the things that will help you in life."

Siyadhuba hopes young kids back in Zimbabwe who are inclined to be footballers can take that kind of vision on board as they pursue their dreams.

He adds: "What I realized with kids over there, when they are really good at soccer, they try to focus on that only. [I would advise them] to concentrate also on school, because you never know what will really help you.

"Look at me right now, I'm here in America not only because of soccer."