Dynamo’s Hadebe honors mom with a career that helped her get started

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Houston Dynamo defenseman Teenage Hadebe, left, brings the ball down in front of Portland Timbers forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda (11) during the second half of an MLS soccer game Saturday, April 16, 2022 in Houston.  (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Houston Dynamo defenseman Teenage Hadebe, left, brings the ball down in front of Portland Timbers forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda (11) during the second half of an MLS soccer game Saturday, April 16, 2022 in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

AP

Teenage Hadebe’s golden ticket was a soda that his mother bought him as a treat.

As a kid growing up in Zimbabwe, the Houston defender would improvise Dynamo to play his favorite sport, forming whatever was on hand into a ball because his family didn’t have the money to do it.

But in a truly Willie Wonka-like twist, the lid of this lemonade had a code that earned Hadebe an actual soccer ball.

“We saw there was a competition on TV and I went up to my mom and said, ‘Just buy me a Coke and you never know, maybe I’ll win something,’ so she did,” Hadebe recalls, laughing at that moment when he was about five years old.

That ball launched Hadebe on a path that would take him across the globe to play the sport he loves. In honor of his mother, Selina Ndlovu, who passed away in 2017, Hadebe always wears a t-shirt that reads “My Mother’s Blessings” under his jersey.

When he scored his first goal for Dynamo last month, he took off his jersey to reveal the shirt.

“I dedicate everything to her, that’s my strength,” he said.

Hadebe was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. Shortly after getting his first football, he knew he had a knack for the game.

“I was sure I was talented because as a kid you want to show what position you play in – but I’ve played in all positions. Sometimes you could find me in goal, in midfield, as a striker, as a defender, as a goalkeeper,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what position exactly, but I’ve had a lot of coaches and they saw I had potential, so they kept telling me to work hard, never give up on my dreams, and I did, and now It’s paying off for me, so thank God for that.”

He started his professional career at 17, playing for several teams in his home country before joining South Africa’s Premier League side Kaiser Chiefs.

Hadebe was due to play his last game in Zimbabwe with his proud mother in the stands when he received the devastating news: she had collapsed and died suddenly outside the family home.

Hadebe ended up playing in South Africa, which led to a stint in Turkey. In 2021 he was signed by Dynamo as a designated player.

Houston struggled in his freshman season, finishing 6-16-12 and bottoming out in the Western Conference. The team parted ways with coach Tab Ramos in November, whose contract was not renewed. Dynamo signed Paulo Nagamura, a former MLS player who previously coached Sporting Kansas City II, in January.

While defenders generally aren’t scorers, Hadebe’s height – he’s 6ft 2 – and skillset make him a dangerous presence in the air. He’s also become a key leader on the team, charming Houston fans with his big smile — and keen fashion sense.

Besides Dynamo, Hadebe also plays for the Zimbabwe national team. However, the team is currently banned from international competitions due to government interference in the governance of their national football association.

The t-shirt isn’t the only reminder of his mother that Hadebe wears. He has a tattoo on his neck that also reads “My Mother’s Blessings”.

At just 26, Hadebe is now a parent herself. He and his wife, who were high school friends, have three children.

He hopes he made his mother proud.

“Every time I play, I ask for advice on everything I do, even when I’m on the pitch, because she used to enjoy watching me play,” he said. “But I’m sure she’s with me in spirit.”

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