Fancy Footwork

Devyn jambga’s left wrist is emblazoned with a subtle reference to his home—a place that means the world to him.

The 23-year-old FC Tucson midfielder’s tattoo, inspired by a tri-colored wristband he once wore, traces back to his roots in the African nation of Zimbabwe.

He grew up in the capital city of Harare, despite being born in Illinois. In his heart, he never left the nation, even though he now resides nearly 10,000 miles from his former home.

“It’s a reminder that some people are less fortunate than me, and not to squander the opportunity that I have,” Jambga said of the tattoo. “There are a million players I know from back home that would want to come over here and do what I’m doing, and some of them just didn’t have the resources to do it.”

Jambga has made good on that opportunity this season, scoring a team-high five goals in 17 appearances.

The biggest night of the season for the midfielder came in the team’s July 20 road match against the Greenville Triumph in South Carolina.

Jambga’s night to remember began with a firecracker of a shot from the left flank that tied the match at 1 in the game’s 20th minute. His night wasn’t done there, however, as he tallied his second brace of the year (scoring two goals in a match), with another right-footed blast that found the back of the net.

Jambga’s strong effort came as no surprise to first-year coach Darren Sawatzky, who believes that Jambga’s game is in fine form, with a unique skill set that allows him to befuddle some of the best keepers in the country.

“He’s a powerful guy,” Sawatzky said. “He’s fast. He’s strong. He’s getting better at understanding when to run and how to run. But he also has a super positive attitude, there’s never a negative thing out of the kid. And it’s infectious. And he takes off and works hard and brings guys around him into the game.”

Jambga’s relentless drive was honed over the years, both in Zimbabwe and at Southern Illinois University, where he scored 15 goals in 73 appearances between 2013 and 2017.

Jambga attributes much of his soccer prowess to the years spent honing his skills in Zimbabwe, where the sport is a national pastime, though he’s found differences of play in the two countries.

“It’s a lot more structured here and a lot more physical,” he said. “I feel like the average human in the United States is a little bigger than the average human in Zimbabwe. So, there’s a lot of quick, pacey players, but they’re not all huge.”

Those physical differences caught Jambga off-guard when he first arrived on the campus of SIU, forcing him to redshirt a season in 2013 to learn the American game.

He was a quick study, scoring seven goals for the Des Moines Menace of the semi-professional Premier Development League in 2016-17, playing for the side during the last two summers of his college career.

He spent much of 2018 playing for the Portland Timbers 2 squad of the United Soccer League, appearing in five matches.

Jambga said his experience in 2018 was an eye-opener, for how it made him aware of the need to improve his strength and on-pitch prowess.

“I think it was just me growing into my body a little more, so that helped on the field, for sure,” he said. “But also, I think my decision-making has improved. It still needs to get better, but I think it’s gotten a lot better since I moved here.”

Jambga also learned how to communicate with his teammates, like fellow midfielder Raheem Somersall.

Somersall said the pair of midfielders’ have a special bond, with the dynamic duo doing whatever they can to link up and push the team to victory.

“[Devyn’s] a fun player, very exciting in the open field, running with players,” he said. “Whenever I play with him I try to get the ball to him first. He’s a good player to link up with. And we have a close relationship.”

Sawatzky, who played professionally in Major League Soccer and coached with the Seattle Sounders of the MLS, the Sounders FC U-23 squad and the Guam national team, believes Jambga’s dynamic performance of-late stems from his growing confidence.

He believes the forward, who was named the USL League One player of the week on Tuesday, July 23, was a bit gun-shy at first. He’s convinced that Jambga has recovered, with a head full of confidence and an aura of success at his back.

“I think Devyn took four or five games to go, ‘You know what? I can actually trust what the coaching staff is saying,'” Sawatzky said. “If it’s not good we’re going to tell you, but we’re going to give you the ways to make it better. And what he’s done is taken the information and applied it, and you can see the growth that’s made.”

Jambga’s made it a point to make Sawatzky and his staff proud each and every time he toes the pitch this year.

“I’m very appreciative of the minutes and the faith that my coaches have in me,” he said. “It’s always a risk putting a player onto the field because they’re a reflection of what you think a good soccer player is. So, if they’re not playing well, then you start to get criticized.”

Jambga could rest easy, knowing that his recent goal-spurt is likely enough to keep him in the roster going forward. But rather than rest on his laurels, Jambga is committed to doing whatever it takes to propel FC Tucson into playoff contention.

The home side is three spots out of the fourth and final postseason spot. Jambga said he’s going to do everything he can to push the team forward, doing whatever Sawatzky and his staff ask.

“I just try and repay him and repay my teammates for all the hard work that they do throughout the week by going out there and trying to perform and elevate Tucson,” he said. “I think in the table; it doesn’t accurately show how good we are. I think we’re coming into our own now and I’m hoping we can ride this wave all the way through to the end of the season, be battling for the championship.”

The path to a league championship is long and arduous, but nothing that he hasn’t faced in his 23 years of life.

Jambga points to his wrist tattoo as proof that hard work in the face of overwhelming odds can pay off in the long run.

“Back home, there’s a lot of people that don’t really have jobs, they have to rely on crafts,” Jambga said. “So, they weave these fabrics together to make a bracelet. I used to have the actual bracelet like this from back home, and I wore it for every college game and kind of give it a kiss before I went out on the field just to remind myself where I’m from.”

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