Senior Sports Editor
THE Digital Crawl, the fox-in-the-box, the flying dreadlocks, the boyish looks — Vitalis “Digital’’ Takawira transformed himself into a fan favourite during his time at Major League side Kansas City Wiz.
And, 20 years after he last wore the jersey of the American soccer team now known as Sporting Kansas, the memories the Zimbabwean striker created have not faded from the memory of the fans.
Once again, he has become the flavour of the season, as the MLS goes down memory lane as part of the celebrations to mark the league’s 25th Season.
There are fans, including some not yet born when he was playing for Kansas, who are now asking to buy the replica jerseys he used to wear.
Today, Sporting Kansas City fans will be treated to an historic throwback as the match in which Takawira became the first club’s first player to score a hat-trick, on May 16, 1998, is streamed exclusively by the club.
“On May 16, 1998, the Zimbabwean striker scored the first hat trick in Kansas City history to help the Wizards defeat the New England Revolution 3-1 at Foxboro Stadium,’’ the club said this week.
“The contest remained scoreless until the final quarter-hour when Takawira struck twice in the space of three minutes, giving the visitors a 2-0 advantage.
“New England forward Raul Diaz Arce pulled a goal back in the 83rd minute, but Takawira put the game to bed with his third tally of the night in the 85th minute.’’
The stream is only available to viewers in the United States of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska. Takawira also scored the club’s first goal in the MLS.
And, such was his impact that, even now, there are some fans, who didn’t even see him play, who say there will never be a player like him in the MLS again.
J. Sam Jones was not even born when the league started and only started following it, in terms of going to matches, when Atlanta United, who were only formed six years ago, exploded on the scene.
But, contributing to the MLS 25th Season celebrations on the league’s official website, he said the kind of player he won’t ever see again is Digital Takawira.
That’s a huge endorsement.
“Honestly, I missed a lot of MLS players I would have liked to see. There are a couple of reasons for that, the first being that the league itself is older than me,’’ he wrote.
“The second is that I didn’t start following the league until Atlanta United.
“I didn’t know anything about the Wiz when Digital played, but I still feel some nostalgia for the incredible rainbow kits.
“The main thing, though, is that it all happened in the first place and we get to look back and revel in the splendour of the Digital Crawl performed in front of 8 000 people in a way that shouldn’t make followers of the league insecure, but more assured that this is all heading in the right direction.
“The league continues to grow, attendance continues to rise, talent is increasing and teams have bonafide roots in their cities and regions. Somehow.
“It’s something to be proud of for those who have been around since the beginning and something to enjoy the hell out of for those just coming into the fold.
“There’s too much soccer around the world where the outcome feels predetermined. MLS is and has, wonderfully, never been that. For the last 25 years, it’s been soccer stuck in the fourth dimension, and I hope it never leaves.’’
Takawira spent four years at Kansas and, in 100 games, he scored 39 goals, including the first one the club got in the MLS on April 13, 1996. And, even though 24 years have passed, the club have not forgotten when the diminutive fox-in-the-box crashed the ball home, after a trademark sharp turn, giving the goalkeeper no chance from close range.
“On this date (April 13, 1996), the Kansas City Wiz welcomed over 21,000 fans to Arrowhead Stadium for their inaugural MLS match against the Colorado Rapids,’’ the club said.
“Digital Takawira wasted no time becoming a folk hero, bagging a brace, while long-time United States international and eventual MLS head coach Frank Klopas also found the score sheet as the Wiz prevailed 3-0 in a triumphant first chapter for the club. But, despite making it big in America, it appears Takawira’s best moments remain when he was fighting for the cause of his country in the jersey of the Warriors. He says the proudest moment, as a player, was when he scored a hat-trick against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
“My proudest? Perhaps when I scored three goals against Cameroon,’’ he told The Soccer Inside. “They are a great team and that was a great moment for me.
“I will always remember my first goal for Kansas City, but that match against Cameroon was my best.’’
And, he also remembers that match against Bafana Bafana when the Warriors won 4-1 at the National Sports Stadium.
It was his debut for his country.
“We played against South Africa for my first time with the national team. That was the first time the ban on South Africa had been lifted after apartheid,’’ he said.
“It was truly an amazing game. I was called in and I honestly did not think I was going to even play, but the coach started me and I had a great game. It was also my first goal for Zimbabwe.’’ He picked Rigobert Song as his toughest opponent and, of course, his story would never be complete without discussing the Digital Crawl and his nickname came about.
“To me, that was the greatest thing to do, score a goal, and when you score, why wouldn’t you want to celebrate? I just enjoy seeing players celebrate after the goal, because the bottom line is that we play to score goals,’’ he said.
“It (nickname) came from my first club team, Dynamos, in Zimbabwe. When you graduate to the first team, the supporters give you a nickname. It was them who gave me that name.
“Perhaps, because, they thought I was so quick and controlled on the ball, like something digital, like a computer or camera.’’
It’s something the Kansas fans will have the privilege to watch again tonight.