Create
Notifications
Favorites Edit
Advertisement

How American Samoa turned their luck around

Jonny Keen
ANALYST
Feature
60   //    Timeless

Salapu conceded 31 goals against Australia in a single match
Salapu conceded 31 goals against Australia in a single match

It's safe to say American Samoa were not a good team. As of 2011, the tiny island nation were rooted to the bottom of the international rankings and had never won an officially sanctioned match. In fact, the poor quality of American Samoa's team was brought into stark focus, when they lost 31-0 to Australia in World Cup qualifying.

And things continued to go badly over the next few years. At the 2011 Pacific Games, American Samoa lost all five games they played, conceding 26 goals and failing to score even once, losing 8-0 to both Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

The American Samoan FA knew they had to do something drastic if they wanted to shake off the tag of worst team in the world.

And so they sent a request to the USA begging for help. A reply came soon after' an experienced coach was on his way to manage the team and prepare them for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.

Their saviour came in the form of Dutchman Thomas Rongen, the veteran of a number of campaigns, having managed clubs in the MLS as well as the USA U-21s team.

Preparing the world's worst team for upcoming games against far higher ranked sides might have seemed an impossibility, but Rongen rose to the challenge with gusto, putting together an unorthodox team which included centre back Jaiyah Saelua, the first ever transgender player to compete in World Cup qualifying, and Nicky Salapu, the goalkeeper who had conceded 31 against Australia so many years ago.

Rongen put his new team through a strict training regime, forcing them to train hard in stormy conditions to improve their stamina and durability. But it still seemed a big ask for the team to acheive anything in the coming games. After all, many of the players were not even playing club football as they were serving in the US Army or working abroad.


Jaiyah Saelua played in America's win over Tonga, becoming the first transgender player to compete in World Cup qualifying
Jaiyah Saelua played in America's win over Tonga, becoming the first transgender player to compete in World Cup qualifying

But Rongen managed to pull off the impossible; pulling off a 2-1 win in American Samoa's first qualifying game against Tonga, with goals from serving soldier Ramin Ott and current NFL player Shalom Luani.

Advertisement

Two days later, a 1-1 draw against the Cook Islands saw American Samoa within touching distance of the next round of qualifying; an acheivement which would have been unthinkable before Rongen's arrival.

The scene was set for a fairytale ending to an amazing story. American Samoa faced off against close rivals, Samoa, in a game that would determine who qualified for the OFC Cup and the next round of qualifying. But it was Samoa who won, an 89th minute goal sending Rongen's side crashing out of the competition.

With his temporary contract at an end, Rongen returned to the MLS to take up a new coaching position with Toronto FC.

It was a disappointing finish, but the Dutchman's work had not been in vain. He had led the tiny island to their first ever competitive win, laid the foundations for a competitive team and perhaps most importantly, restored pride to the nation.


Tags:
Advertisement