Photo Credit OFC Media via Phototek

American Samoa may have struggled at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament – Oceania Qualifier in Apia last week but the tiny Pacific nation of fewer than 50,000 people did unveil a potential future star of the game.

Morgan Patea was one of the standout players at the tournament, catching the eye with her brilliant array of skills in a team that was ultimately outclassed. Hailing from Anaheim in California, the 23-year-old attacker was eligible for selection through her dad Robert, who was born and raised in Vatia in American Samoa before moving to Los Angeles.

But if it wasn’t for her own initiative, using social media, the opportunity may never have come.

“It was kind of hard to be honest, to get in touch with somebody because there’s not a lot out there in terms of connections from the US to American Samoa. So I basically did the research on my own and then one thing led to another. I got in touch with Alma Mana’o who is one of the girls on the team on Instagram, and I said Hey, I saw that you’ve played for the national team. Well, my dad’s from there, I was wondering how I could get on the team?” Patea explained.

But that was in 2019 before COVID-19 hit and the young forward thought the opportunity was lost.

Photo Credit OFC Media via Phototek (Morgan Patea fourth from left back row) Women’s Olympic Football Tournament – Oceania Qualifier, American Samoa v Solomon Islands, FFS Football Stadium Apia, Samoa, Saturday 10 February 2024.

Three years later Samoa coach Juan Chang Urrea enquired about Patea potentially joining his side for last December’s Pacific Games in Honiara. Her grandparents were born in Samoa.

“Yeah, he (Juan) had never seen me play though and was just going based off what my coach at California State in Los Angeles said. And I was waiting a couple months, and I was trying to go to the Pacific Games, but my citizenship wouldn’t go through.

“The paperwork was too difficult to recover, and we were unable to find any birth records for my grandparents. Literally the same day I had asked him (Juan), hey I know it’s almost late January, I’m trying to get everything figured out. Do you think I’d be able to play, and he was like, oh, it doesn’t look good, the paperwork is not going to go through.  I was like, oh, okay, and then literally an hour later Alma messaged me on Instagram and said, hey, if you’re eligible, and you’re free, come play for us, (American Samoa) and we leave in two weeks,” Patea explained.

The team had a very short preparation for the Olympic Qualifier and Patea admits most of the players didn’t really know each other before the tournament. They lost 10-0 in their opening game against Fiji but were more cohesive in a 7-1 loss to Solomon Islands, before a 9-0 defeat by Papua New Guinea didn’t reflect the improvement the side had made.

“I think that’s the biggest thing, we didn’t have much time together and with more time we had together the better we played,” Patea reflected.

Patea was a standout in all three matches, comfortable off both feet, accurate with her passing and dangerous with her speed and footwork. She wouldn’t have been out of place in any of the stronger teams in the competition.

Photo Credit OFC Media via Phototek American Samoa’s Morgan Patea proved a handful for every opponent at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament – Oceania Qualifier in Apia.

Now she has been given the opportunity on the international stage, Patea is determined to give back to American Samoa.

“I think this is just the beginning. The girls love the game. If you have a passion and you’re willing to work, then I don’t think you should ever give up something that is just starting. I’ve had a good experience here so far. And I’ve made really good friends here and being able to get used to the culture. My dad’s always saying, ‘well, back on the island, I did this, and I did that.’ And so now I’m able to experience it first-hand.

There’s so much I could give to the game and give to these girls that I’ve learned that they haven’t had the opportunity to learn, or they don’t have the facilities or the resources necessarily as I do in the States. So anything I can give back to them that helps them love the game, I’m willing to do that,” Patea said.

Football has been a part of Patea’s life for as long as she can remember. Her older sisters Malori and Maci both played, as did her brother Nick.

‘My sisters got into the sport when they were young, so seeing both of my sisters play and then my brother, I was basically raised on the soccer field, that’s where it all started for me.”

The connection with American Samoa through her dad’s family has always been strong, although it took her selection in the team for the Olympic Qualifier to make her first visit to the Island.

“Dad has family out there. A bunch of my cousins are there, and they usually come and visit me. So finally, for once I was able to come and see where everything was at and visit my cousins and that was nice.”

Patea graduated from California State University with a Commerce degree last year. She spent two years playing football at Cypress College before finishing her last two years at Cal State. She is now playing semi-professionally for United City FC in Los Angeles.

“I play indoor soccer a lot too, and we just played a professional indoor game for USA, verse Mexico, it was out in California as well. But it was a good experience.”

Photo Credit OFC Media via Phototek. Morgan Patea is proud to represent American Samoa

Patea is motivated by a strong desire to become fully professional and hopes her performances at the Olympic Qualifier will attract the attention of club scouts.

“This has motivated me a lot, the experience has been everything, and it’s something that I will never forget. I would never turn and opportunity to play professionally down.  And I think just being a kid, it’s always something you want to keep pushing yourself as much as you can, as far as you could go.

“I think this was just a great opportunity for exposure, no matter what the outcome was. I was glad that I could just step on the field and represent my country. And then if anything was to come out of it, then so be it.”

Despite her team’s struggles on the field in Apia, Patea thoroughly enjoyed the experience and felt there’s so much potential in the side.

“It was hard at first to assimilate and just to get together, just because of the short time that we had. But it’s been nice to spend some time with the girls and build that bond with each other, and the longer we spent together the closer we got to each other, and it was nice to get to know everybody.  The experience has been everything, and it’s something that I will never forget,” she said.

It can be easy to absorb praise and collect the accolades, but if she really wants to achieve her dream to play professionally, Patea believes this trip has highlighted areas for her to work on to get better, notably fitness.

“That’s one thing that I would really like to work on, especially getting adjusted to the weather out here was very different than the weather back in California. (Hot and humid compared to a dry heat) I think that played a part in it. And then honestly, just this competition, this tournament, as funny as it is helped me build a lot of confidence in myself, and I think that was one of my weaknesses in my game, was just not having that confidence or belief in myself.

“This has really helped me just take it to the next level. I’m excited to build off what I have started here.”

There is a sense chatting to Patea that she believes the breakthrough to the professional ranks is close, and the exposure she gained at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament – Oceania Qualifier will help.

“I’ve had a couple of opportunities, which didn’t eventuate due to visas and citizenship issues and stuff like that. It’s been kind of a tough road to go down. But I will say back in the States, there’s a lot of role playing. There are a couple of girls that stand out on the field. You’ll have those key moments, but it’s about teamwork. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I was able to stand out here, because we didn’t have that much teamwork. If we were able to build up as a team and play the certain roles that we had, then I think we would all look good altogether.”

Last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Australia and New Zealand also had an immense impact on Patea.

“Just honestly seeing the exposure that it had and the media covering it honestly, like you see step by step and the small things to everything that goes behind the scenes. Then it’s just really great to see women’s football grow as a whole. To be able to be a part of that, no matter how big or small my role is, I think it’s just inspiring to see.”