They’re known for “that defeat” against Australia, but American Samoa have dusted themselves off and climbed their way into the top 200 on the FIFA Ranking.
Football Federation American Samoa Quick Facts:
FA Established: 1984
OFC/FIFA Member: 1998
President: Iuli Alex Godinet
National Stadium: Veterans Memorial Stadium, Pago Pago
Men’s National Team Manager: Larry Manao
Women’s National Team Manager: Beulah Oney
Senior Top Divisions: FFAS Senior League (Men), FFAS Women’s National League (Women)
Football in the country, with an area of just 199 km² and 54, 194 people as of July 2016, has had to fight with traditional American sports such as American Football, basketball and baseball for popularity in the unincorporated U.S. territory. Founded in 1984 under the name American Samoa Football Association (ASFA) the tiny island has done a good job in recent years in terms of raising the popularity of football.
In the first 20 years of their existence the American Samoans only recorded one win, a 3-0 win against non-FIFA member Vallis and Futuna in 1983, the year before the ASFA was officially established. In 2001 they were made world famous for losing 31-0 to Australia in a World Cup Qualifier for the Japan/Korea 2002 World Cup, the largest victory in an international football match. The American Samoa squad that was fielded for that round of World Cup Qualifiers was not their best, or even second best line of players, as passport issues just before the qualifiers were set to start saw 19 of the 20 players in the squad ruled ineligible and plans to call up large parts of the Under-20 squad failed as they were taking their high school exams around that time. This saw ASFA having to field a squad with the average age of around 20 years for the matches against Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and Australia. They didn’t score a goal in any of their four matches.
In 2007 the American Samoa football association was reformed and re-branded as Football Federation American Samoa (FFAS) after a tumultuous two-year period following the disbandment of the ASFA. The new-look governing body elected Iuli Alex Godinet as its leader and since then things have really looked up.
The FFAS has started several very successful programmes to develop the youth and women’s game in the country which in turn will give results in the senior game. One such milestone came in 2011 when the American Samoa Men’s team won their first ever official match. Spearheaded by coach Thomas Rongen who had previous experience as the Head Coach for USA U-20 and including Nicky Salapu, the goalkeeper from the 31-0 loss, the American Samoans fought their way to a 2-1 win over Tonga and followed it up with a 1-1 draw against Cook Islands a few days later. The win over Tonga is immortalised in the critically acclaimed documentary “Next Goal Wins” by Mike Brett and Steve Jamieson.
Since the win over Tonga the American Samoa Men’s team have continued to do well coming within a goal of qualifying for the second round of the OFC Qualifiers for the Russia World Cup only beaten by their Samoan Islands rival Samoa in 2015. They increased their official games won to three, recording yet another 2-1 win over Tonga before beating Cook Islands 2-0 in the final game. 2015 also saw American Samoa climb to an all time high of 164th in the FIFA ranking and ending the year in 167th place.
Football, or soccer as it’s most commonly known in the U.S. regions, continues to grow and the FFAS are doing a great job in bringing football to the people. With a bit more time and luck there could be great things in store for the once “worst football nation in the world”.