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The upset-scoring Philippines women's soccer team has strong roots in the U.S.


The Filipino women's soccer team scored a huge upset in its first World Cup ever, defeating the host country, New Zealand, 1 to nothing this week. But the story of how that team was formed is also pretty intriguing. It turns out that 18 of the 23 players in their squad are actually born in America, only one in the Philippines. Henry Bushnell recently reported on how the team came to be for Yahoo Sports, and he joins us from Auckland, New Zealand. Thanks so much for being with us.

HENRY BUSHNELL: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Why and how so many players from the U.S.?

BUSHNELL: Soccer just isn't that big a sport in the Philippines, where, you know, basketball is, by far, the dominant team sport there. But in 2012, the Philippines women's national soccer team came to the U.S. They were invited to a one-off tournament, and they decided to host a tryout or just, like, a scouting camp. You know, obviously, there are 4-plus million Filipino Americans. And with the help of two guys who were born in the Philippines and had come to the U.S. and love soccer, they started just finding players throughout the U.S., the majority of them from California, and kind of built this pipeline of American-born players.

SIMON: How did they recruit a team?

BUSHNELL: Yeah, they began just online, on message boards. There would be random people who would talk about, you know, potential prospects for the team that were either based in the U.S. or had grown up in the U.S. And then, when it became a more official enterprise in 2012, or at least a semiofficial enterprise, these two guys, Mark Mangune and Butchie Impelido - what they began with was college rosters. You know, a college soccer team has its roster listed online, and they would look at the faces and look at the names and see if any of them looked or sounded like they might be Filipino. If there was a player, then they'd give the coach a call to try to verify that the player was Filipino. Or sometimes, whether it was through Facebook or Instagram, they'd contact the player directly just sending a message. And some - a lot of times, they wouldn't get responses. But over the years, as people heard about who the Philippines women's national team was and that there were opportunities for players with Filipino heritage, they started jumping at that chance and then even being eager to initiate that conversation about potentially joining the team themselves.

SIMON: I mean, I think we can all think of the occasional Olympic athlete - figure skater, downhill skier or something like that - who represents the country of their ancestry but happens to have been born in or at least substantially grown up in the United States. But, boy, this is a whole team. This is 18 out of 23 players.

BUSHNELL: I don't think anybody at the Philippines Football Federation (ph) ever planned it to be this way in talking to some of the people who were involved in the construction of the team. The thought, I think, was always to have a mix of homegrown players and U.S. players. But there's just such a women's soccer culture and girls' soccer culture here in the U.S. that, over time, they realized - the difference in the quality of the player from - between the homegrown players and the players who are brought up in the U.S. is just - is pretty stark. You know, they just the coaches have adopted a mentality where, you know, the best 23 players are going to make this team.

SIMON: Who should we watch on this team?

BUSHNELL: Sarina Bolden, I think, is the star. She's from - she was born in Northern California, went to Loyola Marymount. She's the one who scored the goal against New Zealand. She's a really active forward, probably the biggest name. And the goalie, Olivia Davies-McDaniel, had an outstanding performance against New Zealand, made an incredible save in the second half to preserve the win - also from California. They were kind of the two heroes of the New Zealand win and will definitely both have major roles to play in their group finale against Norway.

SIMON: So can the Philippine national women's team defeat Norway on Sunday?

BUSHNELL: I don't know that they can defeat them. I think that's a pretty tough task. The good news for them is that they might only need a draw to get through. So I think what you're probably going to end up seeing - it's going to be a pretty lopsided game. But can the Philippines sneak out with maybe a 0-0 or a 1-1 draw? I wouldn't put it past them at this point after seeing their first two games here.

SIMON: Kind of hard not to root for them, isn't it?

BUSHNELL: Absolutely. Even as a journalist, I think I can admit that.

SIMON: Henry Bushnell of Yahoo Sports, thanks so much for being with us.

BUSHNELL: Thanks, Scott.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Mark Bushnell
Mark Bushnell is a Vermont journalist and historian. He is the author and co-author of several books on Vermont history, including It Happened in Vermont. His regular column, Life in the Past Lane, appears in the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.