Justin Manao, a freshman midfielder for the Pacific Lutheran men's soccer team, played a significant role when the American Samoa national soccer team made history last week.
Manao, who was born in the United States, took the ultimate step in his soccer career, playing in FIFA World Cup qualifying matches for American Samoa, a nation that he is tied to by birth.
Leaving immediately after the season ended for the Lutes, Justin headed to the South Pacific to join his international team and represent American Samoa on the biggest stage a footballer could dream about.
American Samoa took on Tonga in a Oceania World Cup qualifying match in Apia, Samoa. Being ranked last in the FIFA World Rankings (tied for 204th) and losing 30 consecutive matches over 17 years, American Samoa nonetheless came out 2-1 victors. The team celebrated as if the World Cup had already been won, some raising their arms in celebration and others collapsing onto the field, overcome by the moment.
The win was truly historic, as American Samoa had set the FIFA record in 2002 for worst international loss when Australia defeated the team 31-0 in an official FIFA match. The team had never won a game since joining FIFA, and had been outscored 229-12 before the victory over Tonga. In the victory, Manao started for the team and assisted on the winning goal in the 74th minute, lobbing a ball over the top for teammate Shalom Luani to chip over the onrushing Togan goalie.
"I thought it was just so cool that I was able to come down and help America Samoa with its first victory," said Manao of the victory against Tonga.
American Samoa tied its second game with the Cook Islands, 1-1. Manao again played the full 90 for the squad, earning his second cap as an international player.
Entering the final match of the four-team group, American Samoa had to beat rival Samoa to advance to the next stage of qualifying in the Oceania region. Manao started his third consecutive game, but American Samoa gave up a counterattack goal in the 90th minute to lose 1-0. The heart-wrenching loss sent the team packing, ending a historic run for the small U.S. protectorate nation.
"Overall it was a great experience and I would definitely do it again," Manao said.
Manao was able to play for the team because of his family's history in the country. His uncle, Larry Manao, is one of the assistant coaches for the American Samoan team and asked Justin to come represent his ancestry by playing for the team. Due to his grandparents' birth in the nation, Justin was allowed to play.
- PLU -