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Pago Youth three-peats in come-from-behind win

Rambo Tapui of Pago Youth celebrates with Puni SamueluPuni Samuelu of Pago YouthThe Pago Youth men’s teamFFAS President, Sen. Faiivae Iuli Alex Godinet (left) and Rambo TapuiPago Youth’s Gabriel Taumua with Sen. Faiivae Iuli Alex Godinet Pago Youth’s Rambo Tapui with Sen. Faiivae Iuli Alex Godinet Pago Youth’s Afa Sione

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Pago Youth’s veteran players came to the fore to help their team beat Utulei Youth 3-2 in a comeback win that sealed their third championship title three years in-a-row on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018 at Pago Park Soccer Stadium.

But it was a connection with two up and coming youngsters that also made this possible for Pago Youth, utilizing a great crop of young players featuring on their senior squad.

It is only the second time a team has three-peated as champions of the men’s National League under the FFAS umbrella, and it is the second such feat by Pago Youth.

2011 skipper, JR Amisone, scored the game winner on a header on the 54th minute of the game, and it was the first time Pago Youth led in the championship game.  It was a perfect long pass by the final’s MVP, Gabriel Taumua.  Taumua passed it long to give a streaking Amisone a chance at a 1-v-1 with Utulei’s netminder, and once the goalie hesitated, the 2011 National Team’s captain pounced on the ball and headed it in for the winner.

There were two National Teams from 2011, a squad that competed at the Pacific Games in New Caledonia in August of that year, and the squad coached by Thomas Rongen in November that competed at the OFC’s FIFA World Cup preliminary in Samoa.  Amisone was skipper for both teams.

His teammate on that 2011 team, and the 2018 Men’s National League season MVP, Rambo Tapui, scored the second equalizer on the 48th minute, scoring on a pass from Puni Samuelu for a 2-2 score.  Samuelu had penetrated inside the penalty area and then passed it to a wide-open Tapui for the score.

Utulei Youth scored first, a goal from Palauni Tapusoa in the 15th minute.  He dribbled the ball right through the legs of a defender and then sped unopposed to score on a side foot kick.

In the second half, Samuelu got into an open space inside Utulei’s penalty area, and after receiving a great pass from teammate Roy Ledoux with his chest, he blasted it into the near post for the equalizing score in the game’s 40th minute.

Just five minutes later, another former teammate of Amisone from the 2011 team got in on the scoring action, but this time for the opposing side.  Pesamino Victor, who was part of the team that went to New Caledonia, and not the latter, headed in a corner at the far post.  That score on a corner from Austin Kaleopa gave Utulei a 2-1 lead that would evaporate later.

Taumua, this year’s Men’s U19 and Men U16 captain, and Ledoux, teammates on the U19 team, had great passes that led to scores for Pago Youth.  They are the future of this team with their veteran players currently battling a losing fight against Father Time.  However, it is Pago’s youth and their veteran players’ experience that has helped the Pago Pago clinch their third straight National League title.

Other veteran players on their squad with international experience are Samuelu and his older brother Ryan, Ueli Tualaulelei.  Some of the young players looking to continue on the mantle for Pago Pago but with international experience in their belts already are all teammates of Taumua at one youth team or another are — Peni Collins, Afa Sione

Since 2008, Pago Youth has won seven National League titles, three-peating from 2010 to 2012, and then this current run that dates back to 2016.

In the game for third place, Ilaoa & To’omata beat Taputimu Youth 4-2.

Pago Youth will represent American Samoa at the OFC Champions League qualifiers in Cook Islands in January 2019 as champions of the 2017 season.  For winning this season, they will represent American Samoa at the qualifiers to be hosted by Samoa in December 2019.

The qualifiers include all four National League champions of American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga.