American Samoa’s soccer team – ranked worst international team in the world – has won a game for the first time in its history.
The US protectorate managed a 2-1 victory over Tonga after 30 straight defeats in almost two decades.
Marco Werman gets details from the team’s coach, Thomas Rongen.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman. This is The World. American Samoa soccer team has plenty to be thankful for today. The squad is still celebrating its 2-1 victory over Tonga on Tuesday. In one sense it wasn’t a terribly meaningful contest. The match marked the start of Oceania World Cup qualifying, but it was huge win for American Samoa and here’s why: The victory ended a streak of 30 consecutive defeats. The most humiliating was a 31-0 loss to Australia in 2001. Thomas Rongen is coach of the American Samoa team in western Samoa and the former coach of the New England Revolution, here in the Boston area. Thomas, I gotta ask you first, how did the win feel?
Thomas Rongen: Yeah, it was as you said, a historic win. The biggest win for a small nation of 60,000 people in Polynesia. And it had some really interesting stories. The same goalkeeper that lost 31-0 against Australia that walked around since that day with tremendous emotional scars, all those demons, this win released everything you know. His first thing after the game he said to me, “Coach, I can live my normal life because people have reminded me since that day every day how can you give up 31 goals?” So it was great for the nation, it was great for some individual players to get that monkey off their back and get this historic win for American Samoa.
Werman: I certainly want to congratulate you on your win. And don’t want to dwell on the past, but I’m just wondering what was the problem for all those years? Why was the American Samoa team kind of plagued by all these losses? What was going wrong?
Rongen: Well, if you look at this region the level is probably the lowest I’ve ever encountered of any region and I’ve worked in Europe, I’ve worked in South America, and clearly the last 10 years I’ve worked with US soccer. One area that’s really been lacking is a proper developmental infrastructure and at the end of the day, coaches make players. And this country, especially the Samoa countries have never really been dexterous in technical expertise.
Werman: This is clearly an important win for American Samoa’s soccer team. I mean after all, 17 years without a victory, so I get why you’re serious about this achievement. I’m wondering though in the future, will you, will your team have a look back on this period of years without a victory with a sense of humor?
Rongen: Yeah, because we’ve had our ups and downs, and we’ve had some tears and then we had some joys. And that’s part of a family, this group is a family. These players are amateur players. They sacrifice. We’ve slept together in dorm rooms on the floor without mattresses for two weeks. They’re up at 4:30AM, trained in the morning. Half the team went to school, high school or college. Half the team went to work. Some got their jump on a tuneup ball for eight hours, worked hard, came back in the afternoon, got their asses kicked to death by me you know, in a session, then came back with a smile on their face because of the surety and the love of the game even on the highest level.
Werman: Thomas Rongen is the coach of the American Samoan soccer team. He is celebrating as many people in American Samoa are, their first victory in 17 years, a 2-1 victory over Tonga. Coach Rongen, thanks very much for speaking with us and congratulations.
Rongen: No problem, thank you very much.
Werman: There was another first in that game, not just for American Samoa, but for world soccer. Defender Jonny Saelua was the first transgender soccer player to compete in a World Cup qualifying match. You can see the goal scored in American Samoa’s win against Tonga earlier this week on our website. We’ve also got video of all 31 goals in that record breaking 31-0 loss to Australia. Ouch. That’s all at theworld.org.
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In 2001 American Samoa lost 31-0 to Australia – the worst defeat in international soccer ever.