Racing Louisville's Thembi Kgatlana wants South Africa to emulate the USA's youth system

Racing Louisville's Thembi Kgatlana praises the USA's soccer culture (2:02)

South Africa striker Thembi Kgatlana, who will play for Racing Louisville this NWSL season, loves the US Soccer's focus on girls at a youth level. (2:02)

South Africa and Racing Louisville striker Thembi Kgatlana hopes her country will one day put as much focus on girls' youth football as the USA does.

Kgatlana, who will be the first South African to play for two NWSL sides when the season begins this weekend (she played for the Houston Dash in 2018), also hopes girls in her country will soon be able to wear a women's jersey without being mocked.

The striker, who is on the brink of a full recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon, told ESPN of her experience in the US: "At grassroots level, we [in SA] don't have girls' teams.

"Here at Louisville, the team here was having a friendly and it was in the evening, when everyone was back from school. I was really, really amazed to see girls at eight years old having a full team playing.

"It's the culture that they've created in the US to get girls playing at that age, so I wonder how much more it would make so much sense for us to bring back school sport in South Africa. It was there but it doesn't exist in a lot of places - a lot of provinces - in the country."

Kgatlana, who most recently played for Atletico Madrid, added: "It's going to take more than just saying 'I want to be a footballer when I grow up,' for these young girls.

"It has to be a system that's set up from a very young level, from pre-school, making sure that there's football structures for these girls from high school to college, university and even in a professional league."

Kgatlana's dream is to play her part in ensuring that South African women's football more closely mirrors the scene in the US - one where a young girl can eventually take up the sport without her classmates daring to laugh, or wear an Alex Morgan jersey without a second thought.

She is on a mission to normalise young South African girls chasing their football dreams: "If someone asked me at the age of eight and asked me: 'Do you really want to be a footballer,' and helped me from there, I think things would have turned out differently.

"To be honest, the culture didn't allow for a girl to play football. We didn't have a lot of media coverage for me to convince my parents and say: 'hey, I want to be a footballer.' Today, things are a bit different for the fact that there's coverage of women's football in the country.

"I have a couple of friends who have daughters who are still under eight. Some of them asked me to get them my Atlético jersey when I was there.

"It was career day not so long ago and the one girl went to school wearing my jersey. They laughed at her for wearing a football jersey, but she proudly said: 'I want to be like Thembi. I want to be a footballer.'"

Kgatlana, together with Nikolaos Kirkinis, is releasing a children's book titled, "Girls Don't Do That" in early April, and fits with her goal of making sure young girls know that football is a path they can follow, despite being told otherwise.

It will be published in Afrikaans, English, Setswana, isiZulu and isiXhosa [South Africa has 11 official languages, but these are the predominant ones].

On why she wrote the book for multiple translations, Kgatlana said: "I think it was a really critical move to make sure that the book is not only in English, because we have to understand that our target market is not just English kids, but it's kids almost everywhere in South Africa.

"It's going to help us even more with achieving that dream of making sure that not only children who can read English have access to this book."

Kgatlana faces a race against time to reach peak fitness ahead of the NWSL season, but if ready on time, she could make her debut against former club Houston Dash on March 27.

With the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand looming from July 20 - August 20, Kgatlana will look to help South Africa make it out of Group G with Sweden, Italy and Argentina.