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Heat Notebook

Heat Notebook

Mulamba at home with Heat

By Matthew Goricki
Laredo Morning Times
Published: Thursday, May 31, 2012 8:33 AM CDT
On a Laredo Heat team predominately made up of Spanish-speaking players with a coach who can’t speak English, Greg Mulamba doesn’t seem to fit in.

But Mulamba not only gets along with his coach and teammates, he has learned to become a leader on the pitch, despite not speaking Spanish.

Mulamba, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, knows English and French and is one of the Heat’s most important players, especially since he is part of a midfield that is integral to first-year coach Hernando Fernandez’s system.

“I fit in great with the guys,” Mulamba said. “I never have a problem with communication.

I can tell what the coaches want from me. If it gets hard, there is always someone to translate.”

Mulamba, Max Gunderson and Placide Buduri are the only Heat players who don’t speak Spanish, though it hasn’t hurt their performances in practice or in games.

After losing the Premier Development League opener to the Texas Dutch Lions, Mulamba and his fellow midfielders have helped the Heat win their next two games against the El Paso Patriots and the Dutch Lions.

From Africa to Laredo

While attending games in South Africa, recruiters from Clemson University in South Carolina became impressed with Mulamba’s play.

Mulamba didn’t qualify academically, so the Clemson coach suggested attending Texas A&M International and playing on the TAMIU team coached by Claudio Arias.

Before he arrived in Laredo in 2006, Mulamba had never been to the United States. He knew hardly anything of Texas or Laredo.

“This was literally my first view of America,” Mulamba said. “I was like, ‘This is not what I see on TV.’

When I got here, it was so hot. I still remember stepping off the plane and the heat slapping me in the face. It’s not even as hot in South Africa as it is here in Summer.

“And then I was like, everybody speaks Spanish. It took a lot of getting used to. It was different.

The U.S. would have been different anyways, but Laredo was real different. But it’s good.”

While still a student at TAMIU in 2007, Mulamba joined the Heat and helped the organization win its first and only PDL title.

“Once I got here, Claudio didn’t want me to go,” Mulamba, who graduated from TAMIU in 2010, said.

“At the end of the day, Claudio had developed a relationship with my family and me.

We ended up staying in Laredo and I played four years for Claudio.

Playing at TAMIU, that’s how I found out about the Heat.”

It wasn’t easy for Mulamba to adjust to playing with Arias at TAMIU or with then-Heat coach Israel Collazo.

He was basically immersed into a new culture where language was sometimes a barrier.

Mulamba, a strong player with endless endurance, could hold his own on the field, but initially needed help when it came to on-field instruction.

“When I first got here, I was like, what the heck is going on,” Mulamba said.

“I would just say, ‘Si, si’ even if I didn’t get it. It was hard at first. It took a little bit to get used to. Now I’ve picked up on things.”

Midfield anchor

Since winning the title, Mulamba has become a fixture on the team, anchoring the midfield with Juan de Dios Ibarra and helping the Heat control the tempo of each game.

As a center-midfielder, he doesn’t score many goals, but he plays a large part in securing the ball for his team so the forwards can attack the net.

With Fernandez’s philosophy of controlling possession time, Mulamba’s talents are put to maximum use.

His main roll revolves around getting the ball back to his teammates when the opponent has possession and then helping maintain possession once Laredo has the ball.

“He doesn’t get desperate,” Fernandez said through a translator.

“I see a more complete player. He gets less yellow cards and no red cards.

This is his best season. He’s intelligent. He’s more disciplined.

“I have a fantastic midfield, but Greg is the pillar of that midfield. Without Greg, I would be worried.”

Because of that style of play, Mulamba has been pleased with the season thus far.

“Out of the years I’ve been here, I’ve enjoyed playing this year the most,” Mulamba said.

“We are playing a different style, keeping the ball more. It’s more possession.

In the middle, I’m enjoying the way I’m playing with Johnny (Ibarra) and the other guys.

We just need to polish it up. We’ll be just as good as we’ve been the other years.”