Lebo Moloto’s route to get to becoming a crucial player for FC Tulsa was not a typical one. After moving to the United States from South Africa, he played college soccer at Lindsey Wilson College, an NAIA school. Lebo was selected by the Seattle Sounders in the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft, but he didn’t sign with the club and started his professional career with United FC back in South Africa. “I did have a unique and difficult journey, especially in college,” he said. “Playing for NAIA is not easy. There are assumptions that players in that level are not as good. I’ve played with some amazing soccer players. Shaun Francis, Michael Azira, to name a few who went on to have amazing careers in MLS.”
What would Lebo’s advice be to a young player currently in a similar position that he was in, not playing for a big college or a highly-regarded academy? He answered, “My advice would be to keep believing and always work hard because you never know who is watching.”
With successful stints with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, the club formerly known as Swope Park Rangers, Nashville SC, and now FC Tulsa, Moloto is the most underrated player in the USL Championship in my opinion. When asked if he feels he is underappreciated or if he even cares about individual accolades, Moloto said, “I’ve had an amazing journey in the USL. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Individual accolades are important, but team accolades are much better.”
“I’ve always wanted to win the league and the USL Championship. Came very close to both. The journey continues and the vision still remains.”
With a deep, talented team in FC Tulsa, winning the league isn’t out of the question for Lebo & Co. “We had great players last year and added more firepower this year. It shows that we are here to compete for the championship,” he said. “Good players means you are guaranteed competition, and that is what drives every practice. Guys are fully motivated and hungry to compete.”
This will be his second season playing under Head Coach Michael Nsien. Moloto explained, “Working with Mike has been great. He is knowledgeable and understands the game very well. I think after our first-ever conversation, I knew I wanted to be in Tulsa.”
For FC Tulsa in 2020, Moloto started every match and registered one goal and two assists. Now in his second year in Oklahoma, the pandemic has prevented Moloto from getting the full experience of Tulsa. “I think COVID has had a massive impact and has made it difficult to fully explore Tulsa,” he said. “However, we’ve enjoyed spending time as a family, and watching my two boys grow up has been amazing.”
“The Gathering Place has to be one of our favorite family spots. It’s a beautiful park that occupies our kids for hours. We don’t eat out a lot, but Mexican restaurants are always our go-to.”
Now with two little ones in the family, life has definitely changed for Lebo and his wife. He said, “Man, having kids has been not only a blessing but amazing. We’ve enjoyed and embraced all the challenges of being parents.”
What are some of the major lessons he wants to teach his sons? “One of the lessons I would love to teach them is ‘They should dream and dream big. Situations/circumstances should never define who they are.’ I was raised in a small village in South Africa, and today I am living my dream of being a professional soccer player,” Lebo said.
Moloto tries to get back to South Africa once a year, but he obviously wasn’t able to due to COVID-19 last year. He explained, “I miss my family and friends, food and just the culture. SA is full of talented young players.”
He was able to represent the South African youth national team in the past and had the goal of one day suiting up for the first team. “Yes, playing for my country would be great, but realistically speaking, I am 30 and I believe the country needs to start rebuilding and focusing more on the future,” Moloto said.
While playing for his country may not be realistic anymore, the 30-year-old midfielder will be expected to play a major role for FC Tulsa in 2021. The season kicks for the club tomorrow with a Black Gold Derby match vs. OKC Energy FC. Kickoff from Taft Stadium is set for 7:30 PM Central and the match will be live on ESPN+.