Three years ago, when midfielder Benjamin Tembo stepped on campus at The Master’s University, coach Jim Rickard saw a potential for scoring nearly unmatched in the program’s previous two decades.
“I told him, ‘You need to score goals.’ And he’d say, ‘No, I’m an assists guy,’” Rickard said.
Maybe that’s why Tembo recently characterized the 2017 season, when he scored a conference-best 17 goals, as being something of a drop-off from the previous year, when he scored less but had a greater impact as far as facilitating the ball upfield and creating chances for attackers.
“I was playing (more) consistent (in 2016),” said Tembo, whose 17 goals were the most in a season at TMU since Anthon Brueggeman scored 22 in 2001. “And I feel I influenced a lot (more) of the games back then.”
The Golden State Athletic Conference and the NAIA didn’t share the junior’s opinion. Tembo earned NAIA third-team All-American honors this month on the heels of being named the GSAC Player of the Year.
He led the conference in every offensive category, including game-winning goals (six) and assists (eight).
More goals, however, meant stepping into the spotlight, a move Tembo was hesitant to make. He’s humble and soft-spoken and, before this year, he was happy to play best supporting actor to Humphrey Mahowa’s leading-man role.
Then Mahowa – a three-time honorable-mention All-American – elected not to return for his senior season, and Rickard saw a scoring gap that needed to be filled, or at least bridged.
So he played Tembo higher in the midfield this season, and Tembo became a more-obvious facet of the offensive attack and, really, the face of the program.
The result: eight goals in a torrid three-game stretch, a handful of GSAC Player of the Week awards and a Mustang team that advanced to the GSAC tournament semifinals for the third straight year.
After scoring the third goal of a hat trick against William Jessup in September, Tembo ambled to the far corner of the field and performed a high-arcing backflip.
“To score a hat trick as a midfielder (is pretty uncommon),” Tembo said. “It’s something where I had to express that joy. And also, it pumps up my teammates.”
The acrobatic expression was perfected years earlier when Tembo was in elementary school in his home country of Malawi. Through high school, he played soccer simply for that same intrinsic fun and enjoyment.
Then came TMU.
After Mahowa – who played against Tembo in Malawi – suggested to Rickard that the coach recruit his countryman, Rickard helped Tembo see the professional side of high-level soccer.
Tembo says he learned to eat smarter, sleep better and train harder at Master’s. He also learned to play defense. But the offensive talent was always there.
See if you can keep up …
“He has exceptional vision, touch, skill, speed, quickness, cutting ability and he can finish,” Rickard says.
As a freshman in 2015, Tembo scored twice with five assists. Then he netted 10 goals and four assists as a sophomore before his breakout 2017.
It’s unclear what his role will be as a senior. For sure, he’ll be a marked man. So it’s possible Rickard will utilize his star more in the middle of the field, which could mean watered-down stats, but continued rock-solid influence.
Three Mustangs named All-Americans
Valencia High graduate Jasmine Parada capped a season’s worth of prolific offense by scoring a national award this month. The TMU junior forward earned NAIA second-team All-American honors on December 5 after scoring a GSAC-best 16 goals and dishing out four assists.
Teammates Kayla Peterson and Hailey Gomillion were honorable mention All-American picks. Gomillion led the GSAC with eight assists, while Peterson anchored the team’s backline.
The Mustangs went 15-6-1 this year, advancing to the final 16 of the NAIA national tournament.
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