Tag Archives: American Samoa

Interview with Nicky Salapu (Next Goal Wins)

Nicky Salapu holds an unenviable record. He conceded more goals than any other goalie in international football history. Back in 2001 his American Samoa side lost 31-0 to Australia in a World Cup qualifier.

He stuck with the national team though as they looked to improve. Ahead of the DVD release of Next Goal Wins this week, a documentary telling the story of the American Samoan national team, Nicky took time out to chat to us.

ngw 2Steve Norman: What was your initial reaction when you found out that people from the UK wanted to make a documentary about the American Samoan national football team?

Nicky Salapu: I felt blessed and shocked at the same time. I kind of felt ‘why us?’ Why have these guys come over to film us? I was shocked when I went to New Caledonia for the South Pacific Games and I saw these guys, I thought ‘are we in trouble?’ It’s a blessing and I thank them for making American Samoa more known around the world and making this film.

SN: It is an interesting story, especially with American Samoa being, at the time, bottom of FIFA’s world rankings and on the end of the heaviest ever defeat in international football to Australia. You played in that game, how did you feel going into that game? How did you approach that match and how did you feel playing against the best team in your region?

NS: I knew it was going to happen. Back then most of the good players didn’t have a passport and FIFA have this rule that says if you don’t have a passport, you can’t play. I was the only experienced player back then because I was playing for the national team. I thought ‘I don’t know how we’re going to face these guys’, especially guys like Mark Viduka, for God’s sake, who played for Leeds United and Mark Schwarzer, you know. How am I meant to face these people. The only reason I’m playing is to make sure my team don’t get beat 50-0. But I knew what was going to happen, I knew the score would be high. I can’t go back and change those things. Whatever happens, happens. It’s embarrassing. It’s a shame.

SN: How did you deal with things after the game, after losing by that scoreline? It seems, from the documentary, that the result affected you a lot.

NS: Yeah, I carried that around with me for a long time, for 13 years. It’s something that I never forget. After the game we walked into the locker room, I bowed down my head and I cried a little bit. I felt very embarrassed and like I don’t want to play soccer anymore. But I also felt that I am a soccer player and I’m not the kind of guy to just give up on it. I felt like I wanted to put my team and my country in a different perspective and get them out of the embarrassment.

SN: Thomas Rongen had experience of playing at Ajax and in the USA with the likes of George Best and Johan Cruyff and had coached the USA youth sides, what did he bring to the American Samoa set up?

NS: The experience and knowledge we never had before. The professionalism we never had before. He brought and installed a commitment that some of the kids don’t have. He said that if you don’t commit yourself fully to the team, we will cut you off, you know. This made a lot of people think ‘oh, this guy is serious’. Thomas was more professional and had a lot of passion for soccer. We have to thank him for bringing his experience and the way he motivated a lot of the kids and make them want to keep playing. His knowledge, experience and professionalism helped us a lot.

SN: At the time Thomas came in as coach, you were living in America. How did he convince you to return to the national team?

NS: [Laughs] good question. He asked me if I wanted to remove the embarrassment of that game, the 31-0 to Australia. He said this was a good moment, that he was a professional coach, that we had good players and some from here in the States [Rongen called up two players based in the USA with American Samoan heritage]. He kept telling me all these things. I was working hard for my family, they really needed me. I didn’t feel like going. When he told me all these things – and telling me he wanted to put the embarrassment of the 31-0 to the side and become winners – he said that this was the best squad with the best players and the best coach. I was like, ‘ok, this will be the best moment to go back and come out of the embarrassment.’ I’m glad he called me and thankful to him for letting me come back to play.

SN: Under Thomas, the team achieved its first ever victory, against Tonga, how did that feel? Especially considering your journey with the team from the loss to Australia to the first ever win.

NS: Oh, it felt incredible. Amazing. I thought I was dreaming. Is this happening? Did we win a game? At the time I felt like we were never going to win but I believed in my team, and the management and the support from our country that came over to support us. I believed we had something and that we would accomplish something. It felt exciting. It was the best thing that ever happened to me in football.  I even forgot that the 31-0 ever existed. It was a joyful moment. I have the movie at home. I watched it last night with my son and my wife and every time I see that part where we won the game I still cry no matter what. I still cry. It means a lot to me and I cannot thank enough Thomas, the coaches and my team-mates for helping that happen.ngw

SN: One of the most uplifting and engaging things about the film was the sense of togetherness between the squad and players and inclusion of the people who may not have come from American Samoa but were of American Samoan descent, or and the people from different backgrounds on the island. Did this help the team?

NS: It helped us a lot. With the culture and religion of the island it makes us come together as a team as we have a respectful way of living. It makes us respect other players and our management. We always show respect everywhere we go. Down in the islands it’s like almost every family is related and that is why we call each other brothers and sisters because we are close and it helps us a lot. Being spiritual was the best thing for our team. Lots of people say that it has nothing to do with God but if you believe in God and believe in football, things happen.

SN: Are you still involved with the team?

NS: Yeah, I’m still connected with Larry [one of the coaches] and I practice with his youth soccer team and I still maintain myself because most of the people say they want me to come back and play. I play six times a week here in Seattle, although I don’t actually play that much in goal. I’m actually pretty decent on the field, in midfield. I sometimes play sweeper as I am taller than most of the opponents. I play goalkeeper when it’s a hard game to make sure we secure our rank as I play in a tough level. At the moment we are top of the league and every time we play a top team I go in goal.

SN: What next for American Samoa?

NS: In June we will start training and finding some teams to play against. We will have a camp in Hawaii and the first match in July with the World Cup Qualifiers starting in November.

SN: What did you think of the movie, Next Goal Wins?

NS: What I say at the end of the movie is true; I still want to go back and play against Australia. I really want to. If it doesn’t happen to me, my son loves football and he always tells me he wants to play Australia if I don’t. I hope the movie motivates the kids to play football. I hope the defeat to Samoa doesn’t put them off and they get the motivation to play football. I love football, it’s my world. I can’t live without it.

SN: You’re not the only one.

NS: My wife gets mad at me and says when will you stop playing football? And I say ‘never, I will surely play until I die’. My son keeps telling me he will one day play for the American Samoa national team. Hopefully. I want to thank Steve, Mike and Christian for coming down to make this movie.

Next Goal Wins is out on DVD now. You can find out more information about this extraordinary documentary on their website and find all of our coverage (including interviews, podcasts and reviews) here.

Competition Time: Win a Copy of ‘Next Goal Wins’ on DVD

NGW-300x225In conjunction with our sister site, Born Offside, we have been given 3 copies of Next Goal Wins on DVD to give away.

The documentary tells the story of the American Samoan national team, the victims of the heaviest ever defeat in international football, 31-0 to Australia, and at one point the worst national team in the game, as they look to achieve their first ever win.

To enter just tweet @FailedCritics the answer to the following question:

In what position are American Samoa in the current FIFA World Rankings?

with the hashtag #NextGoalWins

The competition will close at 11pm on Tuesday the 2nd of September when the winners will be chosen at random.

Next Goal Wins is out on DVD to buy from Monday the 1st September.

Keep your eye on Failed Critics for an interview with the American Samoa goalkeeper Nicky Salapu. In the meantime, you can read our interview with the film’s director Steve Jamison, listen to our podcast review of Next Goal Wins, or read the written interview from back in May.

Next Goal Wins

ngw2By Steve Norman

American Samoa are an unlikely team to be etched in football folklore. The small Pacific island nation are in the record books with the heaviest defeat in international football, a 31-0 defeat to Australia in a qualifying match for the 2002 World Cup back in 2001.

The result had a number of effects on football. It led to preliminary rounds in Oceanic World Cup qualifying to reduce the chance of other embarrassing and crushing results and it kick started Australia’s campaign to move into the Asian Football Confederation as they looked to become more competitive. It also turned the American Samoan team into the butt of many joke and the answer to many a football quiz question.

Next Goal Wins, directed by Steve Jamison and Mike Brett, starts just prior to qualification for this summer’s 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Most telling about the quality and standard of a team who were, at the time, ranked bottom of FIFA’s world rankings, were heavy defeats, to fellow minnows such as Vanuatu and Fiji.

The players try hard, and the coaches are certainly encouraging, but there is a lack of professionalism and nous among the camp which limits this team. The American Samoan FA use their connections with the United States to bring in a professional football coach for the opening round of qualifiers where the team will face Tonga, the Cook Islands and Samoa.

That man was Thomas Rongen, a graduate of the Ajax academy, one of the most renowned in football, and a veteran of American soccer, having played with the likes of George Best and Johann Cruyff as well as coaching DC United and the US under 20 national team.

His impact on the team was massive. After struggling initially with a negative mentality he had to change the way the team thought as well as improve them physically and tactically. Rongen, whose wife accompanied him in this new venture, threw himself in, took on the challenge head on and endeared himself to the team.

He is just one of many characters in this documentary that make it so entertaining, funny and heart-warming. Another is goalkeeper Nicky Salapu. He was the ‘keeper in the 31-0 defeat to Australia and for many defeats after. He seems a glutton for punishment and keeps coming back for more. The heavy defeat seems to have affected him deeply and really left its mark.

Perhaps the most important person in Next Goal Wins, especially from a football perspective, is Jaiyah. She is the first transgender player to play in a FIFA sanctioned match. In American Samoa transgendered people are accepted, certainly more than they are in other parts of the world, and there is even a name in American Samoa for this ‘third gender’ – ‘Fa’afafine’.

Jaiyah is accepted as one of the team and is perhaps one of the most important in the team. She is constantly positive and Thomas recognises her importance to the mentality of the squad, however on the pitch she really shines as well.

It is refreshing to see how she is accepted by a team full of men, especially when you consider the problems surrounding gay footballers, or the lack of those who are out, in football at the highest professional level.

Homosexuality and transgenderism are of course two completely different things but the inclusion of somebody ‘different’ is great to see when the likes of Tomas Hitzlesperger feel they have to wait until they retire before they can come out. Saying much more would ruin the film for people, although you could search online and find out the team’s results under Rongen and in the time since he left.

Next Goal Wins transcends football and is a story about togetherness, ambition, and triumph over the odds and against adversity. While Next Goal Wins will find fans among the football community it has something for everyone and will serve a broader audience than just football supporters. And with a World Cup fast approaching that will feature the world’s best, and best paid players, this fantastic documentary shows what football is, or at least should, really be about.

NEXT GOAL WINS is out on 7 May (nationwide previews) and 9 May (select cinemas)