Minnesota United has signed young South Africa national team forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane in a move intended to bring speed the club has lacked as well as attacking depth off the bench.
Hlongwane, 21, is the Loons' first player signed under Major League Soccer's new Under-22 initiative, according to a team source.
He is playing his third full season in South Africa's premier division and has scored two international goals since he made his national team debut in 2019.
Hlongwane's signing is the first of a series of roster moves expected to be made by a Loons team that lost veteran free agents Ozzie Alonso, Ethan Finlay and Jan Gregus. Alonso signed with Atlanta United (nearer his Miami home), Finlay signed with Austin FC and Gregus with San Jose.
The Loons also are working to sign recently claimed goalkeeper Eric Dick and veteran defender Brent Kallman to contracts before 2022 season training begins Jan. 17. They have several other roster spots to fill, some of which could include major moves that could include an open designated player spot.
The club also is conducting tryouts this week for the team it will field in the new MLS Next Pro operation intended to serve as a development league and second-team pathway for players, coaches, referees, front-office staff and administrators to MLS.
The Under-22 initiative to which Hlongwane is signed allows MLS teams to sign as many as three players age 22 and younger to contracts at a reduced budget charge.
Players can occupy the U-22 slot through the season they turn 25. International players such as Hlongwane are eligible when they sign their first MLS contract. Homegrown players are eligible on their first or second contract and SuperDraft picks can do so on their second MLS contract.