The Thomas Rongen-led miracle for American Samoa is over just when it was getting started.
The tiny South Pacific nation that became the darlings of international football this past week fell 1-0 to Samoa in a winner-takes-all World Cup qualifier in Apia, Samoa, on Saturday night.
The goal was scored in the 90th minute by midfielder Silao Malo on a counter attack that goalkeeper Nicky Salapu was unable to stop.
American Samoa had a decent chance to win it a few minutes earlier, when striker Diamond Ott broke in alone on goal. He beat the goalkeeper, but the post was there to make the save.
Coached by former MLS and US youth national team manager Rongen, American Samoa entered the first round of Oceania qualifying for the 2014 World Cup ranked last in the world (#204). Their most famous feat as a soccer nation was a record 31-0 loss to Australia in a World Cup qualifier. In 30 FIFA-sanctioned matches, they had never won.
But last Wednesday, in Rongen’s first match in charge, they beat Tonga 2-1, sparking an outpouring of interest and goodwill around the world.
They followed up that win with a 1-1 draw versus the Cook Islands in their next match, putting themselves in the position to advance to the second round with a win over Samoa.
It was not to be. Samoa — ironically, coached by an American Samoan named Tunoa Lui — move on to the second round of qualifying, where they will face Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Tahiti in group play.
Before taking over American Samoa, Rongen was head coach of the US U-20 team, from 2001-2005 and again from 2006-2011. In MLS, he managed D.C. United to the 1999 MLS Cup, and also had stints with Tampa Bay, New England, and Chivas USA.