If you run into Ackim Mpofu or Charlton Muhlauri on the Northeastern campus, there’s a pretty good chance the other is not too far behind.
The two senior footballers have been practically inseparable since they arrived on the Boston scene in the fall of 2014. They’ve taken many of the same classes together, they hang out on the weekends together, and they’ve even spent several holiday breaks together.
“I’ll go to the cafeteria and people will ask me, ‘hey where’s your brother?’” Muhlauri said. “It’s pretty cool. And when my dad calls, he’ll ask how Ackim is doing.”
Both originally from Zimbabwe, their bond began two years before they would eventually become teammates at Northeastern. Muhlauri came to the United States in 2011 and attended Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, NH while Mpofu arrived in 2012 and went to Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, MA.
As juniors, they were selected to play in the Junior New England All-Star Game.
“We had known of each other before then, but that’s definitely where it all started,” Mpofu said.
As they were nearing the end of their high school careers, Mpofu and Muhlauri sprouted into two of the top prospects in the region and began receiving college scholarship offers. They each visited Northeastern together, and as time went along, they saw a future where they could play with each other at the collegiate level.
“We each had different options for where to go for college, but it really came down to Northeastern and the fact that [Muhlauri] was coming here, that was kind of it for me,” Mpofu said. “I wasn’t going to come here if he didn’t.”
“I remember calling him on Skype a couple times in high school and I was like ‘hey, you thinking about going to Northeastern still?’ Muhlauri said. “We both committed really late but it was one of those things where it was if you go, I’ll go.”
From the very beginning, they knew they were going to be roommates. And now, in their senior year, they are the only duo on the Huskies’ roster that have lived together all four years.
The Zimbabwe connection cannot be understated. They share many of the same cultural similarities and speak the same languages. Having a right-hand man with a similar background has been huge for the both of them.
“It just makes everything a lot easier,” Muhlauri said. Both on the pitch and off, we know each other’s likes and dislikes. We do drills in practice together. We’re usually playing next to each other during games.”
Northeastern soccer as a whole is equipped with a multitude of nationalities. From Sweden to Venezuela to Japan, the team is made up of all kinds of players from around the Globe. That’s something that Mpofu and Muhlauri have appreciated. They enjoy all of the different perspectives.
“It’s honestly so fun to have diversity on the team,” Mpofu said. “We’re able to experience all of the different cultural backgrounds and learn how everyone interacts. Those are skills you take with you for the rest of your life…getting to know people from different areas I think is an important life skill.”
“We barely have any Americans, though I think this is the most Americans we’ve had in my four years on the team,” Muhlauri said. “There’s a lot of different kinds of music playing in the locker room before the game, which is pretty cool.”
Senior night was against James Madison on Saturday, marking Mpofu and Muhlauri’s final Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) match on their home turf.
Going through the same routine with the same people in the same program for four years can be grueling, and also can be easy to take for granted. But on that day at Parson’s Field, the two were suddenly hit with the reality that things were about to never be the same.
“Before [senior year], you kind of think to yourself, “Alright I’m ready to be done with this. I’ve been here for way too long,’” Muhlauri said. After you play in one place for so long, a lot of players are looking forward to playing the next level. But once Senior Day comes, when they call out your name and you walk out on the field, that’s when you realize, ‘wow this is going to be the last time I’ll be on my home field with my teammates.’”
Mpofu, who hasn’t been able to play this season due to a rare disease called Pigmented Villonodular Synovitis (PVNS), characterized by inflammation and overgrowth of the knee joint lining, was hit with similar emotions despite not playing a minute.
“I was talking to Chuck the day before, saying ‘nah I’m not going to cry. I’m not even playing. It’s fine. We’re here and we’re just going to get through it,’” he said. “But I remember them calling [senior goalkeeper] Jonathan [Thuresson’s] name first and I was like, “oh man here we go.”
Now, as the two young Zimbabweans quickly approach their final semesters as Northeastern Huskies, they reflect on their last four years and appreciate not just how far they’ve come as soccer players, but the people they’ve met along the way to turn them into the young men they’ve become.
“For Ackim and I, our relationship has gone from friends, to teammates, to now brothers,” Muhlauri said. “Soccer comes to an end eventually. But we realize that through soccer, through Northeastern, we became really good friends and that will never end.”