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New Orlando City goalkeeper coach Thabane Sutu locked in despite being away from family

Orlando City goalkeeper coach Thabane Sutu walks the pitch at Orlando City Stadium before the club's match against Toronto FC. (Courtesy of Mark Thor/Orlando City SC)

SANFORD, Fla. — For Orlando City goalkeeper coach Thabane Sutu, coaching in Central Florida is easy.

He’s locked in while he’s at work. Along with head coach James O’Connor and the rest of Orlando City’s coaching staff, he can be at Sylvan Lake Park for roughly 12 hours in a day. He’s put in hours like that since he joined the squad from Louisville City FC in Kentucky.

Things are a bit tough when he’s away from the club.

Sutu’s wife, Motselisi, and 15-year-old daughter, Ayanda, are still in Kentucky. Sutu said Ayanda didn’t want to leave her school, and he wasn’t going to force her to do so.

“It’s kind of strange not to see them around,” Sutu said. “Making adjustments and stuff like that, we should be fine.”

For now, the Lesotho native makes do.

“Anything,” he said. “It’s FaceTiming, it’s texting, that kind of stuff. All of the rituals that we do, getting my kid up, that kind of stuff. All the things that you’ve got to have in a household.”

Sutu – whose first name is pronounced “ta-bah-nee,” though he does go by “T-Bone” – said he was already pretty familiar with Orlando before he moved here. He coached a youth team while in Kentucky and traveled to the ESPN Wide World of Sports every December for a tournament.

He’s come a long way from his humble beginnings.

Sutu said growing up, soccer was always on his mind and he never considered another career path. He captained Lesotho’s national team from 1994 until 1997, won the Arab League title in 1995 and captured three straight Egyptian league titles from 1994 to 1996.

“In most parts of Africa, [soccer is], basically, the poor man’s sport,” he said. “I grew up poor, with nothing, for the most part.”

With a laugh, Sutu added, “We all played as a way of basically trying to forget about the problems we had a home. To get away from some of the stuff we had at home, whatever that may be.

“As young as I can remember, that’s basically what honestly occupied my mind. If I’m in class, in school, I couldn’t really focus probably because I was always thinking about, ‘Man, when can I do some pickup games during the recess?’ That kind of stuff. That’s the only thing that I’ve really done and be able to be, somehow, decent at.” 

Before Sutu was announced as Orlando City’s new goalkeeper’s coach earlier this month, he already knew Orlando City goalkeepers Mason Stajduhar, who joined Louisville City on a short-term loan from Orlando City in 2016, and Adam Grinwis, who tried out for Louisville City before playing for the Rochester Rhinos and Saint Louis FC.

Goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr., who has been Orlando City’s starter during the club’s past three matches in league play, said he thinks Sutu is going to be a positive influence moving forward.

“Really easy-going guy,” Edwards said. “I’ve enjoyed company since he’s been here. I think we’re still building a relationship. Since he’s been here, he’s been extremely supportive. Sessions have been really good.”

Edwards noted Sutu is pretty soft-spoken.

“He came in and [said] right off the bat, ‘This is what we’re doing,’” Edwards said. “I think our first session was one of our hardest ones. … Just the difference between what [former goalkeeper coach] Tim [Mulqueen] was doing, there was no grace period whatsoever. It was just, let’s get right after it.”

Sutu said there’s always room for improvement – for coaches and for players. That’s why people come to practice.

“I bring, obviously, a different way of working with the guys that have been here before,” Sutu said. “But, at the end of the day, it’s all about making sure they don’t conceded goals. How do we go about it? I have to adjust the way I do things to their personalities, their styles, that kind of stuff.” 

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