FFAS > News > OFC STAGE 1 QUALIFIERS > National Team gears up for FIFA World Cup qualifiers

National Team gears up for FIFA World Cup qualifiers

They had just lost 1-0 on a stoppage time goal in the Oceania Football Confederation’s Stage 1 qualification tournament involving Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands and American Samoa.
“I still remember that day and that game like it just happened yesterday,” recalled Football Federation American Samoa President Faiivae Iuli Alex Godinet. “Our players took it hard, they kept their heads up and still remember but the memory still hurts.”
“That was a tough loss but the team has moved on and we are all looking forward to this tournament,” said Larry Mana’o, head coach for the American Samoa 2015 team. “This team is very different from 2011. Four years ago that team was strong but quite. This team, they are very strong and loud.
“They’re calling out to each other on the field, talking and helping one another out by being vocal,” Mana’o said. “We are looking forward to this tournament.”
“It was a learning experience to try a little bit harder,” said Nicky Salapu, the goalie from that squad. “For this tournament coming up, all I’m thinking about is to play the best and to do anything to help the team win this tournament and motiviate the younger players as well.
Now, four years later, it’s the same countries involved but with different looks. Gone is the former USA U-20 coach and miracle worker for that American Samoa squad, Thomas Rongen.
The OFC Stage 1, 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia qualifiers takes place in Tonga from Aug. 31-Sept.-Sept. 4, 2015, with American Samoa featuring a different coach and a new infusion of un-blooded players.
The 2011 team made history by earning their first win in a FIFA international match. Their exploits from that tournament were captured in the documentary, Next Goal Wins! One of the biggest stars that emerged from that was John ‘Jaiyah’ Saelua, considered the first transgender to play in a FIFA match.
Saelua and the majority of that team’s make up are not back for this edition, but six players are coming back from the 23 that participated. Of the six, five were starters — Nicky Salapu (GK), Rawlston Masaniai (Def.), Uasila’a Heleta (Def.), Justin Mana’o (MF) and Ramin Ott (F). Casper Kuresa makes it six but he did not see any playing time during that tournament.
20 players have been selected to represent American Samoa this time around and will carry the hopes and dreams of many former players for the territory as well as the local soccer association’s clubs, members and staff.
They left for Tonga on Sunday, Aug. 23 with four big games on their schedule. Before even a second of the OFC Stage 1 qualifiers begins, they face off against another giant of the Oceania region, Fiji.
“We will be playing Fiji at 7 p.m. on August 27 (August 26, 6 p.m. local time) in a FIFA International Friendly Match at Prince Charles Park in Nadi, Fiji,” said FFAS CEO and team manager, Tavita Taumua.
It is their only warm up game before opening the OFC Stage 1 tournament against Samoa on August 31 at 3:30 p.m. (Aug. 30, 3:30 p.m. local time). On Sept. 2 they play against Tonga at 3:30 p.m. (Sept. 1, 3:30 p.m. local time) before closing out the tournament against the Cook Islands on Sept. 4 at 3:00 p.m. (Sept. 3, 3:00 p.m. local time).
The national team arrived in American Samoa on Aug. 21 from Seattle, Washington where they had been training since late July. They started camping together in mid-August.
A good number of the players are based in the U.S. and locally based players had been training at the FFAS field since March. In July, five of the eight local players flew out to Seattle, WA to start training with the rest of the squad.
Taumua and Mana’o helped coordinate the training in Seattle.
“It was very tough because of the distances we had to travel and having to train on different fields all the time,” Taumua said. “But it was a great learning experience for all.”
“May the best team win and we ask American Samoa for their support of our team and our efforts,” Faiivae said. “I will be in Tonga to help cheer them on and if anyone happens to be there at the same time, come out to the Loto-Tonga Soka Center and watch and cheer by my side.”
Below is a list of the team and their positions:
GOALKEEPERS
Pita Falevalu
Nicky Salapu
DEFENDERS
Casper Kuresa
Ne’emia Kaleopa
Paul Collins
Ramin Ott
Rawlston Masaniai
Ryan Samuelu
Uasila’a Heleta
MIDFIELDERS
Justin Mana’o
Tor-Lawrence Mana’o
Dylan Hardie-Jordan
Jason Sii
Jordan Grantz
Kaleopa Siligi
Panweichi Kaleopa
Sam Kome
FORWARDS
Demetrius Beauchamp
Raphael Rocha
Ali’i Mitchell
COACH
Larry Mana’o

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