According to the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, "The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet." For the American Samoa national football team, baby steps will have to do for this island territory of over 60,000 strong, according to the CIA stats.
American Samoa, managed by Thomas Rongen, scored their first-ever victory in FIFA World Cup Qualification by defeating Tonga 2-1. They followed that up with a 1-1 draw against the Cook Islands before falling to the hosts Samoa 1-0 at the Toleafoa J.S. Blatter Complex in Apia on Saturday.
This is American Samoa. One of the world's worst football teams, if not, THE WORST, when it comes to playing soccer. American Samoa is more known for athletes who play American Football.
However, despite not qualifying for the Oceania Football Confederation Nations Cup in June 2012, American Samoa are making progress. Big progress.
Gone are the days when they were well known for being the team that was blown apart by Australia 31-0 in 2001. Those times feel like a decade ago, because they did happen a decade ago.
Now American Samoa are playing like a team that wants to make the next step towards becoming a major player in the OFC, the weakest confederation in FIFA.
THey are a young side that will only get better. One bright star from their team is forward Shalom Luani, who is only a high school student.
Luani is tied with Ramin Ott for the most goals on this team all-time with two, and has all the makings of being the best player on this side since Nicky Salapu, who put on a stellar performance in goal for American Samoa this past week in Samoa's capital city. All he needs is an opportunity to play college soccer and he could be on his way.
And that's just the start. Here are some things Football Federation American Samoa can do to improve their chances of becoming a force in FIFA World Cup Qualification.
- Find American players in the mainland. I'm not asking for the likes of Sebastien Le Toux to consider playing for this team. Other players with Samoan roots who play in the mainland could be lured to compete for American Samoa. After all, they are a U.S. territory and therefore prospective players on the mainland are eligible to compete. If you can't get picked from the USA men's national team pool, take the next best thing and declare yourself available to play for American Samoa.
- Find players with American Samoan roots who have not been called up to their mother country. They don't have to all come from the mainland, Alaska or Hawaii. If there are players who have American Samoan descent in them and are based out of different countries but are not being called up, playing for American Samoa and a chance to progress in World Cup Qualification is a great opportunity. A database of players with American Samoan heritage must be estalished.
- Build a lifelong partnership with U.S. Soccer in terms of coaching and development. Another no-brainer. Hiring a former U.S. coach in Thomas Rongen was the first step. An exchange of football knowledge by bringing in coaches with experience winning on the mainland will help improve the profile of American Samoa.
- Establish youth soccer academies on the islands. Having a few development academies to draw young players to the game of soccer and improve their skills will be invaluable.
- Establish a national league/first division. It doesn't have to be fully-professional for a place like American Samoa. If it's a semi-professional league, or a league similar to many recreational league across the United States, players can be picked out of the pool of talent to compete for the national team. High schools are not enough. A semi-professional or USASA-quality league must be established.
- Have American Samoa play in friendlies against sides from the USA and elsewhere on a consistent basis. They don't have be big-name teams like the Los Angeles Galaxy or Seattle Sounders, but they can be NCAA teams from power conferences that are willing to show American Samoa a quality of football that will drive them to improve their game and increase their chances of beating opponents like their Western neighbors.
Indeed for American Samoa, a journey of 1,000 miles begins at their feet. This team has many hurdles to overcome before they can establish themselves as a legit force in Oceania. However, when progress has been made, there is no other option but to build on the baby steps the American Samoa national team has taken this past week.