From California to Guam: Kaufman's inspiring adventure
Samantha Kaufman has represented Guam since 2014
The Masakada have not played in a competition since 2018
"I wish I could go back to Guam more often to help"
Have you heard of Guam: the largest and southernmost island in the Mariana Archipelago in the Western Pacific Ocean and an overseas territory of the United States? Did you know that the country has its own women’s national team, which participated at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup for the first time in 1997? No?
Here is Samantha Kaufman’s story…
Kaufman started playing football at the age of three and soon realised what the sport meant to her. “When I was nine or ten and began playing for a club I really knew that it was my passion and that it was something that would take me forward,” she told FIFA.com.
“I even played for the Olympic development programme, which is known as the ODP. In the US it’s essentially a pathway into the national team. I was fortunate enough to receive a full scholarship from the University of Arizona, where I played for four years. I was team captain in my last year there and I was also president of the student council in the sports department.”
However, she was unable to make the step up into professional football - albeit for the best of reasons. At the age of 23, Kaufman, who plays for FC Long Beach in California, gave birth to a son. “I think that if I hadn’t had him and worked as a teacher, I’d have played professionally. But as it is, I had the best of both worlds. I was able to keep playing. We have semi-professional teams in the US and I joined one after I had my son. I signed up because I really wanted to play in the Guam national team. I hoped to rediscover my form and contribute something.”
“I didn’t even know that I was eligible to play for Guam,” the defender said. “But I found out that I was through my grandparents. They were both born and raised on the island. I never thought I’d get this chance, so it was a real blessing when it came.
"My aunt grew up on Guam and always encouraged me: ‘Go for the Guam national team, you’d be fantastic’. But I was on the radar of the US national side. Why should I play for Guam if I potentially have the opportunity to represent the US? But I quickly realised that I’m a good player, not a great one, and that I wouldn’t make it into the US team.”
An honest assessment from the now 33-year-old, who was brought to the Guam coaches’ attention by a friend from college. After a successful trial in Ventura, the first ever training session on the US mainland, she was called up and made her international debut in 2014.
Guam's starting 11 players
Guam's starting 11 players selected to play against Korea Republic during the EAFF E-1 Football Championship Preliminary Competition Round 2 in Hong Kong held in November 2016 pose for a photo ahead of the match. In the photo are, kneeling from left to right, Alyssa Cruz, Colleen Naden, Koharu Minato, Paige Surber, and Skyylerblu Johnson. Standing left to right are Riley Hoover, Kaycee Hoover, Dani Zavala, Sophia Garrido, Samantha Kaufman, and captain Anjelica Perez.
Guam's Samantha Kaufman
Guam's Samantha Kaufman, in dark blue, prepares to maneuver around the defense of Northern Mariana Islands' Taylor Knecht during a match of the EAFF E-1 Football Championship Preliminary Competition Round 1 in Guam held July 2016 - Picture courtesy of Guam FA
Kaufman has not only grown as a player since then, but also as a person. “When I started playing for Guam, I quickly noticed that I was one of the oldest players. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t able to keep up with the others – the opposite was true actually. You could say that they tried to keep up with me,” the affable Kaufman said with a smile.
“I’ve always been a leader. I’ve captained every team I’ve played for. I soon realised that I had to be a kind of mother-captain for the team.” She is also a role model and advisor for the players who live on Guam and want to make the leap to America.
“My love for Guam has grown and the way I talk about it has really changed,” Kaufman continued. “I really felt more connected to Guam and I was proud to represent the island, especially for my grandmother, who’s still alive.
"I grew into my leadership role but also in terms of my personal cultural perspective. I felt more connected. I know more about Guam and the girls showed me more about my culture that I wasn’t aware of. That’s one of the things I’ll take away with me, getting that connection.”
There are a lot of players who are very good at other sports too and who compete at national level in other disciplines. We’ve got a handful of women who also play in Guam’s national rugby team. That’s something the US doesn’t have. You don’t get Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan also playing for the US rugby team.
That bond has had to withstand a lengthy barren spell, as the Masakada have not played in a competition since 2018. Now, however, they are hoping to take part in the qualifying round for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup - which doubles as 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers - and in the preliminary round of the Women’s East Asian Championship.
“To be honest, I don’t know who’s part of the team now because it’s been such a long time,” Kaufman said. “A couple of players have left because they had to find real jobs.
"There’s one player, her name is Anjelica Perez, and she’s probably one of the most influential in the national team. She’s one of our youth coaches in the national set-up and someone who tries to motivate everyone. She’s very active on Instagram, but she also has another job. I think that’s the hardest part.
"I think the last two years have been difficult because there wasn’t much communication. We faced challenges we weren’t able to get to grips with. We’d have liked to, but it was just difficult at the time. I’ve always hoped to get another chance to play again. I have hope that something will happen in September and that we’ll be able to play.”
We are keeping our fingers firmly crossed for her!