If courage could be measured in dollars, Alex Lee would be a very wealthy man. The fullback is now enjoying a prosperous international football career as part of the fairytale that has been Guam’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying campaign.
But it could have all been so different. Six years ago, Lee was involved in a horrific accident. The-then 19-year-old was struck by a car in Washington DC, crashing into the windshield before landing head-first on the street. Doctors needed to remove a significant blood clot near his brain, and there was also internal bleeding. Just three days later, and barely ten miles down the road, USA international Charlie Davies was involved in a wider-known, but similarly tragic accident.
Last year a much happier twist of fate landed at Lee’s feet. The technically skilled overlapping fullback - described by Guam coach Gary White as “among the best fullbacks in Asia” - made his international bow. But this was no ordinary event, in fact it is possibly one that is unique in international football, as Alex and twin brother Justin, plus youngest brother Nate, all debuted at the same time in a match against Hong Kong.
Of course that special day may never have arrived had the events of 10 October 2009 played out differently. “The first question I asked was ‘can I play again’,” Lee told *FIFA.com *recalling the events following the accident. Lee couldn’t do any activity for six months, but he says football provided inspiration during his rehabilitation. “As soon as I could, I was out there running every day,” he said. “I was probably the fittest I have ever been. I was really focussed.”
Born and bred in the United States, the Lee brothers boast a rich multicultural background, qualifying for the *Matao *via a Guamanian-born grandmother. There is also Chinese origin on their father’s side, and central Europe ancestry on their mother’s side.
“It was a pretty special experience,” Lee says of his Guam debut alongside his two brothers. “No way did I imagine that could happen. It was pretty incredible, walking out with the FIFA anthem playing. It was pretty emotional. I played with my (twin) brother a lot growing up, but I had never before played competitively with my little brother.”
*Mixing it with the big boys
*A remote Micronesian nation situated in the northern Pacific Ocean, Guam has never made waves in the international arena. Perhaps their only moment among international headlines came in 2000 when Guam suffered a then-record 19-0 FIFA World Cup defeat against Iran.
However, White has transformed the side over the past two years helping the *Matao *tick off several new landmarks. Most notably, however, have been the team’s achievements during the current stage of Russia 2018 qualifying. They won through to the second stage for the first time, and finally played their maiden FIFA World Cup qualifier on home soil.
But the milestones don't end there. Guam commenced with a win over Turkmenistan, and the nation of 170,000 inhabitants then secured a victory over the second largest nation on the globe; India. This week, however, Guam suffered a costly 1-0 reverse against India, when a win in Bangalore would have left them just a single point off top-spot.
But, Lee, who plays for Richmond Kickers in USA’s third-tier, says there is much more to come from Guam. “After every training session and every match, we have a conversation together and we make sure we take a lot out of every experience,” he said. “The team is incredible. They are all very cool guys, and I love every minute of the international trips.”
Now Guam are readying themselves for another major landmark moment with Iran set to visit next Tuesday. It is by far Guam’s most significant international test. Their opponent, after all, came within inches of a famous win against Argentina at last year’s FIFA World Cup.
But Lee and his team-mates will be no pushovers, having conceded just one goal in their three home matches, and even that lone breach came with the last kick of the game against India. “We are all really looking forward to the match,” Lee said. “We have played really well at home, it has been a fortress for us. At home we will come out and play our game a little bit more.”
Next Tuesday is the biggest football match to take place on Guamanian soil. Carlos Queiroz’s charges will, of course start as hot favourites but one-sided scorelines, like that infamous result 15 years ago, are now a thing of the past for the proud Matao.