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New Minnesota United striker Bongokuhle Hlongwane hasn't scored a goal, earned an assist or started a game in his new league and land.

Yet you could argue the young South African international already is one of Major League Soccer's biggest names.

Particularly when it measures 19 letters and eight syllables.

"When somebody says he's a big name, they mean literally," his new coach Adrian Heath said. "It is a big name. You wouldn't get all of his name on the back of the shirt, I wouldn't think."

That name is only a bit easier to spell than it is to say:

Bong-go-HOOK-le Hluh-ONG-wah-ney.

Just call him Bongi.

"I've got the second name down, the first one is trickier," Heath said. "When you're trying to talk to him in the moment on the field, Bongi is a little easier for me. So that's where it's going to stay."

His Hlongwane surname just fits on the back of a Loons No. 21 jersey. It's now worn by a player practically unknown when club management discovered his skill and spirit while video scouting the world from right here in Minnesota.

They watched from afar Hlongwane's South African premier league games and national team World Cup qualifying games last fall. They saw a 21-year-old forward who plays with pace and what Hlongwane simply calls first and foremost "joy."

"I have to enjoy," he said. "I can't play if I'm mad."

When he's happy, Hlongwane plays with a speed, agility and explosiveness the Loons have lacked. He has shown some of that as a second-half substitute in their first two games, and Heath is seeking ways and places to get him on the field more.

"The kid's got huge upside," Heath said. "When you get players really explosive and really quick, their individualism is their strength. But this kid has a bit of both. He can play with people. He's got a turn of speed. Pace is one of those things you can't buy. We have to work with him and use his in the right area.

"We've really been pleased with what we've seen from him in a short amount of time."

Call teammate Hassani Dotson impressed after Hlongwane played all of Saturday's second half in a 1-1 home-opening draw with Nashville SC after left-side attacker Franco Fragapane left at halftime with a tweaked hamstring.

"You saw he can turn and run into really tight spaces,' Dotson said afterward. "He's a little twinkle-toes."

The Loons have scouted South African leagues since they signed New Zealand's Michael Boxall playing there six years ago. They identified Hlongwane's potential by video scouting, intrigued by his youth and speed.

They sent player-personnel director Amos Magee there for eight days last October. Magee met with his agent, his premier league club officials and watched him train and play games with a Maritzburg team near Durban for which he turned pro at age 18.

Magee also had a nice meal with Hlongwane and his father. Magee pitched leaving home and family – "a big family," Hlongwane said – to play in another hemisphere, on another continent, in a vastly different climate.

"When I mentioned I'd been on a 15-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, I thought I maybe had lost him," Magee said. "But he was up for it."

Until he arrived, Hlongwane had seen snow only once.

"On TV," he said. "This, it's my first time. It's cold."

He will endure a Minnesota winter and wait for its glorious spring, summer and fall because playing professionally overseas is what he and his father always wanted for him.

Until he signed a three-year MLS contract with a one-year club option in early January, Hlongwane had never traveled beyond Ghana, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to play World Cup qualifying games.

Now he is learning to navigate through the snow and learning a new city from his new teammates, some of whom attend Timberwolves games using Minnesota United club owner Bill McGuire's floor seats.

"I don't understand basketball," Hlongwane said.

He is the Loons' first MLS Under-22 initiative signing that is intended to better develop young players by giving teams a significant salary-cap break.

"He's a really, really nice kid," Dotson said. "Anything you say to him, he's open to it and excited about the whole experience — and answers are always with a smile. He's got really good potential. I'm happy what he's done so far."

Dotson also is happy he doesn't have to pronounce Hlongwane's complete given name.

"When I asked him for his name, I wanted to try to pronounce it," Dotson said. "But he just said Bongi, so he let me off the hook."