Lute soccer player earning worldwide respect

By Giancarlo Santoro, sports writer

Pacific Lutheran University junior Justin Manao earned himself a special kind of hat during his first year as a student over two years ago, but it isn’t the kind you would find in your fathers closet.

Manao earned his first “cap” back on November 22, 2011 by making his international debut over 5000 miles away for the American Samoa national soccer team.

It has also landed him in the upcoming documentary “Next Goal Wins,” which goes behind the scenes of the teams first ever victory.

A “cap” is another word to describe when a player makes an appearance in an international soccer game for their respective country. If the coach of the team invites a player to be part of the roster, they can add to their “caps” by playing in games.

There was one slight problem though. The only thing Manao knew about the team is that they were pare of one of the most humiliating moments in soccer history.

“I was told they lost 31-0 to Australia and that they were the worst team in the world,” said a smiling Manao.

As a member of the Oceania Football Confederation, American Samoa was scheduled to play Tonga, Cook Islands and rivals Samoa as part of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Going into the first match against Tonga, American Samoa was on a 30-game losing streak and was ranked by FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, as the 206th team in the world. Good for dead last on the list of international teams.

Almost every country has their own national soccer team, and depending on where a player, or their parents, is born, they can be selected to represent that country. Manao qualifies by way of his father, who is half American Samoan.

Manao’s uncle, part of the American Samoan side of the family, is the Technical Director for the team, and spoke with head coach Thomas Rongen about calling him up to the team a little over two months into his first season with the PLU team.

He credits his uncle and new teammates for helping him make the transition.

“He (Manao’s uncle) made me feel more comfortable being there because I didn’t know any of the team or the surroundings,” said Manao. “They (the team) treated me like one of their own and pretty much took me in like one of their brothers.”

Although the idea of representing any country in an international soccer game seems daunting to many, Manao credits his experience on the PLU men’s team with helping him become one of the teams most important players.

“It helped that I was one of the best on the team and they respected me a little bit more when they saw I could actually play soccer,” explained Manao. “It was definitely a couple steps down from the PLU level though.”

The higher level Manao was talking about meant that he was one of the first players picked by Rongen to start against Tonga. What he didn’t know, however, was that he was about to make history.

Manao described his emotions about supplying the assist to fellow college student Shalom Luani for the historic 2-1 win.

“It was unreal,” beamed Manao. “The whole atmosphere of playing with guys who had never won a game and then to win that game was an unreal experience for their country and for them.”

“It was the first time I think I’ve ever cried winning a soccer game. It overwhelmed me.”

The pure joy of Manao and his teammates was captured by British production companies Archer’s Mark and Agile Films as part of “Next Goal Wins.”

The crews stayed with the team before, during and after the games to shoot what Manao describes as more or less a “sob story.”

The companies have since began the process of promoting the film, which is set to be released this May. The release date is fitting, considering the team is set to travel to Hawaii in June for a week of training; and Manao plans to be there.

“I’m honestly just waiting for the invite at this point but I am ready to go.”

For more information on the film, “Next Goal Wins,” visit www.nextgoalwinsmovie.tumblr.com. 🅼

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