Photo Credit: Orlando Pride – Sofi Diyolowai (left) and Cema Nasau (right)

Fijian women’s football stars Sofi Diyolowai and Cema Nasau have been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Labasa Women FC and BA FC forwards are coming towards the end of a trial with US National Women’s Soccer League club Orlando Pride.

The club, which has Brazilian stars Marta and Adriana on its roster, has taken the two Fijian players under its wings for an intensive three week trial.

Former Fiji National Women’s coach Lisa Cole had got in touch with Orlando Pride General Manager Haley Carter, who was instrumental in organising the trial with support from OFC. Naziah Ali Krishna from the Fiji FA helped identify Sofi and Cema as players with great potential.

“It’s a great opportunity for our girls to be able to go on trial with a huge club like Orlando Pride where legends like Marta play. To be able to access the same facilities and training as some of the best in the world is an opportunity that I think personally would be something they will remember for the rest of their lives. With the help of OFC and Fiji Football we’ve worked to get their visas, flights and expenses covered. Orlando Pride has provided their accommodation,” Ali Krishna said.

For both players it’s a first trip to the United States and Nasau, who plays in midfield or up front, says it has been an incredible experience from the moment they got on the plane in Nadi.

“I was excited about coming. Fiji to LA was my first time and from LA to Florida, meeting the players in Orlando, it was so exciting to meet them because they are very professional,” Nasau said.

(Photo Credit: Orlando Pride – Cema Nasau, left and Sofi Diyolowai, right)

Diyalowai, the Fijian Kulas captain, has found the experience a real eye opener.

“The first day I arrived to the sports facility I was nervous to meet up with the players. But they were really kind and sociable and made us feel welcome. For the first training session I was not ready because of the long travel from Fiji to Florida. Training in their facilities, the ground was so good not like back in Fiji, for me it was a really good experience,” Diyalowai said.

“Some of the players didn’t know where Fiji is and they wanted to know how big Fiji is and we told them it’s a tiny island in the Pacific and very beautiful. Now they all want to come to visit,” she added.

For Diyalowai, who trialled at French Ligue One club Stade De Reims in 2019, this trial has been a huge learning curve.

“We have to work on our ball work and fast play, our touches and mentality during game time and training, time management and fitness,” she added.

“For me it’s a higher standard of play, and when you come to a professional team like this it’s very hard but it’s enjoyable because the pace of the game is different from back at home.”

(Photo Credit: Orlando Pride – Cema Nasau, left and Sofi Diyolowai, right training with Orlando Pride)

Nasau is confident they have the skillset to perform in a professional environment if given the chance.

“Yes, we do believe in ourselves. Yeah, we can do this by just continuing to work hard during training on our skills and our fitness.”

Nasau says they will take what they have learned back to share with their teammates in Fiji.

“The way they train is totally different from Fiji. They’re fast paced when they have the ball and they are so good on their feet. They do specific activations.”

The transfer window in the US closed on July 25th so it’s not a case of Sofi and Cema being signed immediately to pro contracts.

However, Pride General Manager Haley Carter says it’s about the players gaining experience of what a professional, high performance environment looks and feels like so they can help educate their teammates back home.

“So we have given them individual development plans and there are three parts to it. The first is giving them an opportunity to evaluate themselves.

“We have key attributes, what we look for in our players, and what we expect every professional athlete needs to possess. And so we give them the opportunity to evaluate themselves, and where they think they fall out on a scale of one to seven, seven being a national team athlete, in each of those skill set areas, and when we sat with our Assistant Coach Yolanda, (Thomas) and I sat with him and explained, you have to evaluate yourself in the context of here, not in the context of Fiji.

“Now that you know, what the professional environment is, like, you have to evaluate yourself based on this environment, not based on how well you play against other Fijians.” Carter explained.

“It gives them a good opportunity to work on self-awareness, for starters. And it engages us in a conversation with them about it. And then based on that self-assessment and conversation, then we get into goal setting. So helping them set goals, long term and short term and personal and professional that are going to help them develop technically, tactically and physically.”

“And then the third thing we did that’s a little bit different with Sofi and Cema, is we’ve had them sit down and think about what are the things they feel like they did well? What are the things they feel like they weren’t prepared for? And then what are three or four things that they’re going to go back and teach others when they get to Fiji?

“What are they going to share with the Fiji Football Association? What are they going to share with their teammates and their coaches? And that really, I think this whole three weeks we’ve been sort of reiterating. We talked about when you get opportunities like this as leaders for your national team. You have an obligation to go back and share what you learn and share about your experience with others.”

Carter indicated the club would keep in close contact with the two Fijian players over the next six months and indicated whether or not they sign with the Pride, there will be professional opportunities with professional women’s football in an incredible growth phase.

“Whether it’s in Europe, there’s new leagues being built here, there’s a league in Mexico, there’s a new league in Canada that’s going to come up, there’s another pro league in the US, the USL Super League that’s going to start, there are going to be a lot of opportunities in North America for players like Sofi and Cema.

“So even if things don’t work out with our club over time, just based on our roster needs and what we’re looking for, it’s clear that they have the talent to be able to earn a professional contract.”