Football has been a part of life for the Mana’o families of American Samoa which makes teaming up to represent their country a special treat.
The OFC Women’s Nation Cup Qualifier has brought a trio of Mana’o sisters together to play for the country under the guidance of their dad Larry Mana’o.
Alma, Ava and are all joined by their cousin Haleigh Mana’o in the senior women’s team which is hoping to create history for the territory by qualifying for the next stage of the region’s premier women’s competition.
The eldest of the three siblings Alma said it was privilege and honour for them to team up together and play for the country.
“All three of us, we’re just blessed, the whole family is blessed. This is a dream come true, and definitely to be playing together, we can give each other advice and talk about a lot of things together,” Alma said.
The 24-year-old Alma, who resides in Seattle, said football had brought them closer together.
“We all stay in the different parts of the world and today we are together because of football and I would say it is true that football brings everyone together.
“It’s definitely been an exciting process, something that we always dreamed of, so even though it’s long and it’s hard, it’s something that we wouldn’t ask for any differently so definitely a good process for us, “said Alma.
‘Football is in our blood, the whole of my family plays and that is how I got into football,” Alma said.
She added that having her father coaching them was an added bonus, and they do their best not to take advantage of that.
“While we are on the field training or playing we see him as a coach but yes when we are off the field we get all of what a father gives, but there is no favouritism he is just my coach,” said Alma.
Having seen how her brothers did during the men’s FIFA World Cup Russia™ Qualifying in 2015, where there father was also the coach, motivated the sister’s even further.
“They always say playing football is hard, but take the opportunity once it comes and you will succeed,” she said.
While the familial element is something the Mana’o’s are enjoying, Alma said the whole team feels like one big family.
“We treat all girls in the team as our sisters and playing with all of them is amazing as we know each other well,” she said.
However admits first playing with her siblings was an odd experience given they’ve rarely played together in the past.
“We’ve never played together because we all live apart, this is the first time we have come together and it’s to represent our country.
“It’s something different because we have to put our differences aside for the team. We all have different personalities and we always push each other but we treat our games as professionally as possible.
“We are always competitive while playing and that is how we get support from each other,” Alma added.
The sisters’ cousin Haleigh Mana’o also resides in Seattle, USA and never imagined she would be playing in a national team alongside so many family members.
“It great opportunity for us to get together and play for our beloved country,” Haleigh said.
“It’s like we have football in our blood as most of our families played football and that is where we started when we used to watch them and cheer them on.”
The 21-year-old said she feels incredibly privileged to be given such a wonderful opportunity.
“It is my great privilege to be part the team and coached by my uncle, which gives us more motivation and courage as we approach things professionally.”
Alma and Ava first represented American Samoa as far back as 2011 when they competed in the Pacific Games.
Larry said it was privilege and honour for him to have his three daughters and a niece in the team representing the country.
‘I am privileged and honoured to have my three daughters and a niece as part of this team here in Fiji and as a coach I am so happy to have them,” said Larry.
“This makes me feel extra special about this campaign as we all get together as a family for the country.
American Samoa’s football journey has been well documented. The men’s team suffered a world record defeat in 2001, but claimed a much-celebrated maiden international victory ten years later.
Three years ago they doubled that win tally, with only goal difference and a dose of bad luck denying them unlikely progression during 2018 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying.
Larry’s role in that progression also means he has earned the rare distinction of coaching in both male and female World Cup qualifiers.