Mariah Bullock was the standout name in the Samoa squad for the OFC Women’s Nations Cup. In this exclusive interview with Football in Oceania the former professional footballer says she thinks the country could take strides and become one of the top contenders.
Bullock, who is born and raised in the United States, retired from the game in 2015 to focus on her studies after spells in the National Women’s Soccer League with Boston Breakers and Seattle Reign.
Therefore, it came as a huge surprise to see her name appear in the Samoan national team squad for the OFC Women’s Nations Cup. Bullock tells Football in Oceania how it came about.
“My mom is full Samoan and her parents were born in Samoa and American Samoa. In 2015, I took a trip to both islands to connect with family, explore the islands, and offer a free soccer clinic. This trip is what originally connected me with FFS [Football Federation Samoa]. A couple months ago, they emailed me to see if I was interested in playing in this tournament.
“Even though I made the decision to retire from professional soccer in 2015, I’ve kept it a part of my life ever since. I still love playing and try to as much as possible. When I was asked if I was interested in joining, it was a no-brainer. I’ve always loved competing on an international level and have never had the opportunity to represent one of my cultures at the full-team level and in a World Cup Qualifying tournament. I also felt like I could help grow the team.”
Bullock got her debut against Papua New Guinea in the opening match of the Nations Cup on Sunday and the 27-year-old says it was a big moment.
“Playing the first match was a lot of fun. Walking out with the FIFA banners, representing your heritage, and having the national anthem play still gets my adrenaline going.”
Unfortunately, the centre-back had to be taken off at half-time as she felt something wasn’t 100% as it should, but she should be good to go for the next game against Tahiti.
“I asked to be taken off at half-time because of a minor injury. It didn’t feel completely normal and I didn’t want to risk having something more serious happen by pushing it,” Bullock explains.
The result wasn’t what Samoa would have wanted either with Papua New Guinea running away 5-0 winners. Bullock noticed several positives and believe the quite inexperienced squad could grow and potentially fight with the best given time.
“Despite the result from our first match, I think there are a lot of good takeaways. I know that there was a lot I could improve on, but it was still nice to get some game minutes back under my belt and I felt my rhythm build as time went on. In terms of the team, there are a lot of good pieces. We’re relatively young and haven’t had much time to play together as a group.
“Considering that, I think the girls showed great effort and were committed to our tactics. With continued experience, I see a lot of potential for growth and an ability to be one of the top competitors. Our team has a set of values and a mission statement that keeps us anchored in who we want to be and where we want to go as a team. On top of that, of course, we want to get results, but also focus on building our identity and chemistry as a team for the future.”
Bullock is aware that growing up in the United States gave her access to resources others might not have and that being an athlete was always encouraged. She believes those are the biggest factor in what separates the differences in skill and mind to the poorer countries in the world.
“Soccer is still soccer at the end of the day. You can pick it up and play it anywhere and with anyone. In terms of differences, I think the biggest things are just the resources and investment. The infrastructure is in place [in the US] and the opportunities are such that girls can grow up with high-level training and a fairly realistic dream of making a career out of soccer.
“I think those opportunities and mindset are what shape the physical, mental, and technical differences that exist.”
As for the continuation of the Nations Cup, Bullock knows they will be ready come kick-off against Tahiti on Wednesday and then it’s all about execution.
“We’ve had multiple film sessions to review where things broke down on our end and to prepare for Tahiti. We will do all of the mental and physical preparations necessary so that when game day comes, it’s just about execution.”
Football in Oceania wishes Mariah Bullock and the rest of the Samoa team all the best for the rest of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup.
A big thank you to Mariah Bullock for taking the time to do this interview. You can follow her on Twitter here.