Fast becoming the darling of the OFC U-20 Championship, American Samoa goalkeeper Frederick Maiava says his nation is out to prove a point to their critics in Suva, Fiji.
The nephew of Manu Samoa rugby legend Brian Lima, Maiava has won the hearts of football fans in Suva with his bravery, faultless handling and passion for the American Samoa cause.
And while his physique is not that of your typical goalkeeper, there is no doubting his belief in himself, his team and his heritage.
“I’m here to prove my talent as a goalkeeper in Fiji. Some people say we in American Samoa don’t know anything about football, but we have the talent. We want to show the world we can play.
“I tell my team-mates this is our field. This field belongs to American Samoa. Don’t panic. Try your best. The way they perform in American Samoa, bring that performance here to Fiji,” he says.
Maiava may have wondered what he got himself into when American Samoa shipped four goals to Fiji in the first 45 minutes of their opening match with the host nation.
But a brave second half showing and a couple of top quality saves made sure the second half ended goalless, an achievement by itself given they’d conceded 63 goals in just six previous matches, an average of 10.5 goals per game.
“The second half against Fiji was very tough but the boys tried their best to score a goal but we couldn’t do it. We managed to stop them scoring in the second half. Last time a team from American Samoa played Fiji they lost 8-0.
“This time it was 4-0, so this is a big improvement for us and a good experience for us,” he says.
Maiava’s memory of that defeat is close to home with his elder brother turning out for American Samoa that day.
“Both my brothers played football and my oldest brother was here in Fiji and played in the 8-0 game.
“To play in the 4-0 game meant a lot to me and shows a big improvement for us. I love football,” he says.
Maiava, who was seen shouting encouragement and directions to his defence throughout the historic 1-1 draw with Papua New Guinea during the OFC TV broadcast, says being vocal is key for his team.
“The most important thing for our team is to communicate and to talk to each other. From the defenders to the midfielders to the strikers,” he says.
And the belief in close quarters communication has yielded tangible results.
The draw was American Samoa’s best result at U-20 level and they set a new record for most minutes without conceding a goal – 103 minutes – between the second half of the Fiji match and Papua New Guinea’s equaliser on 58 minutes in their second.
It also ended a losing streak that lasted 5, 762 days.
It’s obvious that Maiava’s presence on the pitch is vital to American Samoa’s campaign and the selfless contributor continues to front up even with a knee injury after Fiji’s Saula Waqa collided with him at a corner.
“I tried my best to get up straight away but this is the worst injury I have had. In that moment I think about my family and friends back home and they cheer for us, they pray for us.
“But when I feel pain I don’t think about them, I build up from my heart and then I pick myself up,” he says.
The big goalkeeper with a big heart and a big rugby connection can’t help but acknowledge the skill-set crossover that has helped make him a cult hero in Fiji and around the Pacific.
“The position I play in football means I can use those skills I have learned in rugby – goalkeeper is not an easy position to play, it’s very hard work for me.
“I play rugby union and Manu Samoa is my favourite rugby team but football is my favourite sport. My parents are very proud of me. This is my first time playing at this level and I am an international athlete now,” he says.
American Samoa has achieved two of its best ever results at U-20 level but their campaign gets tougher when they face Vanuatu today minus another impressive player Rafael Rocha who was suspended.
The game kicks off at 7.30pm local time and can be viewed as a live stream on the official OFC YouTube channel.