Castaway

An ex--U.S. soccer coach has big plans for a tiny (and terrible) tropical island team
October 23, 2011

Moving to American Samoa, a 77-square-mile tropical archipelago between Hawaii and New Zealand, may sound relaxing. But try telling that to Thomas Rongen (below), who ran the U.S.'s U-20 soccer team before being fired last July. It is there that Rongen, as Samoa's new coach, will be tasked with kick-starting international soccer's worst program in the run-up to a World Cup qualifying tournament next month. The U.S. territory is in a five-way tie for dead last (203rd) in FIFA's rankings, having been outscored 229--12 in its winless 13-year history, including the most lopsided defeat ever, 31--0 to Australia in 2001.

"We can only go up," says Rongen, 54, who plans to build soccer culture with clinics in a country where rugby and football rule (Samoa produces more NFL players per capita than any other nation) and put to good use his understanding of FIFA's lax dual-citizenship eligibility rules.

As for his goals, Rongen is realistic. Technique takes years, he says, but he can ramp up fitness, defensive intensity and mental toughness quickly, "and make players believe that we can actually do this." And if the team fails to qualify for Brazil? Rongen jokes of a backup plan. "I'll become an NFL agent and bring back three linebackers."

PHOTOHOWARD C. SMITH/ISIPHOTOS.COM/CORBIS (RONGEN)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)