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Options open for multi-skilled Luani

The talented teen has been a key figure as the unfancied island nation has shocked the footballing world with two historic results – a win over Tonga and draw against Cook Islands – and his two strikes make him one of three players chasing the tournament’s Golden Boot award (the others being Samoa’s Luki Gosche and Cook Islands’ Campbell Best).
But what most don’t know is that Luani is just as talented at a very different type of football. As a territory of the United States, American Samoa shares many of the same sporting tastes as its parent country and American football is therefore a very popular pastime.
Luani is one of many young American Samoans drawn to the game and is currently juggling his American football commitments with those of the round-ball code.
Fulfilling his duties to both sports can sometimes be problematic and the 17-year-old was left with a conundrum on his hands this week.
“I play for my high school and we have a play-off match at the same time as this tournament,” he explains.
There was talk of Luani heading home to take part in the fixture but American Samoa coach Thomas Rongen and his support staff wisely decided that the youngster’s talents were too valuable to get by without.
“I will be staying here for our last game,” Luani says. “I left it up to the coaches to decide what was best for me. I will just take whatever opportunity comes up.”
A rather exciting opportunity is now on the horizon in the form of a winner-takes-all clash against hosts Samoa on Saturday. Samoa need only a draw to progress to the second stage of qualifying while surprise package American Samoa must pick up all three points to keep their hopes alive.
“It’s going to be difficult because Samoa is another good team,” Luani says. “We need to work hard to make sure we are ready.”
The youngest player in Rongen’s 23-man squad, Luani is no stranger to international football having represented his country at several Oceania age-group tournaments.
But he has often been used in a defensive role and is making the most of the chance to express himself higher up the pitch.
He scored what turned out to be the winner in that ground-breaking 2-1 success over Tonga – a result that caught the attention of media outlets and fans from all parts of the globe – and found the net again in the 1-1 draw with Cook Islands that followed.
The second goal was a perfect example of Luani’s potential, the multi-skilled sportsman pouncing on a loose ball and showing good strength and balance to hold off a pair of challenges before prodding home past goalkeeper Tony Jamieson.
Such skills would be a great loss to American Samoa football if Luani were to pursue his other sporting interest instead.
“I am keen to keep playing both at the moment because I am not sure which one will be my best option for the future,” he says. “I would like to make a career in one but I don’t know which yet, I guess I will find out later on.”
He will not have to wait as long to find out if his country’s name will be in the hat for the second stage of World Cup qualifying. That fate will be known after the vital 90 minutes against Samoa on Saturday.

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