‘Dream come true to play against Messi’: Sundowns' Mailula on move to MLS

25 July 2023 - 12:09
By Mahlatse Mphahlele
Cassius Mailula is signing for US Major League Soccer team Toronto from Mamelodi Sundowns.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images Cassius Mailula is signing for US Major League Soccer team Toronto from Mamelodi Sundowns.

As he prepares to embark on his North American dream with Toronto FC in Major League Soccer (MLS), Cassius Mailula says he cannot wait to play against Lionel Messi. 

Mailula, 22, is joining Toronto after impressing for Mamelodi Sundowns last season where he scored 15 goals in 31 appearances in all competitions and scooped the Premiership Young Player of the Season award. 

The forward, who also made his Bafana Bafana debut last season, is relishing the prospect of playing against Messi, who is regarded as one of the best players to have played the game. 

Toronto FC play in the MLS Eastern Conference, which is the same as Messi’s club Inter Miami CF, which also boasts former Barcelona stars Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. 

“It will be a dream come true for me to play against Messi. I can’t even wait to get started and play against him and hopefully it will happen soon,” said Mailula when he visited former team Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). 

As he prepared to leave Sundowns, which has been his home since he was 12 years old, Mailula thanked head coach Rulani Mokwena for the opportunity he gave him in the forward's breakthrough season in 2022-23. 

“He played a huge role in my life and the message he gave me was to go out there and work hard and represent the club well. He said I am not only representing myself but my family and the whole club, including the players at the academy. 

“He wants me to go out there to showcase my talents, be humble and stay focused. He is one person who has helped me to be where I am today because he gave me the opportunity to play and he believed in me. 

“He helped me to improve my game and he has also helped me to be a great human being and that is the one thing I will always carry with me going forward. He played a huge role in my life.” 

South Africa has had two players based in the MLS, with Bongokuhle Hlongwane turning out for Minnesota United and Njabulo Blom at St Louis City FC. Olwethu Makhanya was been snapped up by Philadelphia Union from Stellenbosch FC this month.

“For me to go and play in the MLS will help me a lot. You can see now we have a few players from South Africa there and they are doing well. That's good because one day big teams will want to sign players from South Africa,” Mailula said, adding that he wants to continue scoring goals. 

“I just want to help the team do well. Me going there will help them because my job is to score goals. I don’t know much about the club and I will learn a lot when I get there.” 

Mailula said if the move to the US was not concluded, he would have been happy to stay at Sundowns. 

“Even if it didn’t, I was at a team that is playing at the highest level on the continent. I'm playing for a big team where they have taken care of me from the age of 12.

“I was not even going to be worried because I would still be playing for a big team that competes in the Champions League. I am happy Sundowns approved everything and it shows they want to let players go abroad.” 

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