Jaiyah Saelua

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Jaiyah Saelua
Personal information
Full name Jaiyah Tauasuesimeamativa Saelua[1]
Date of birth (1988-07-19) July 19, 1988 (age 34)[2]
Place of birth Leone, American Samoa[1]
Height 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Position(s) Center back
Team information
Current team
Ilaoa and To'omata
Number 3
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
Konica Machine
Savage FC
Lion Heart FC
Ilaoa and To'omata
International career
2004– American Samoa 15 (0)
*Club domestic league appearances and goals
‡ National team caps and goals, correct as of 18 July 2019

Jaiyah Tauasuesimeamativa Saelua (born July 19, 1988) is an American Samoan footballer who plays as a center back for the American Samoa national team.

Saelua is a fa'afafine, a third gender present in Polynesian society.[3][4] She is the first openly non-binary and trans woman[5] to compete in a FIFA World Cup qualifier.[3][6]

Saelua is featured in the 2014 documentary Next Goal Wins. A feature film version of Next Goal Wins is planned, which will feature Kaimana, an actor who is also a fa'afafine, as Saelua, and will be directed by Taika Waititi.[7][8][9][10]

Early life[edit]

Saelua took up football at school as an 11-year-old.[3] Her first coach was Nicky Salapu, the man famous for being the goalkeeper during American Samoa's world-record 31-0 defeat to Australia in 2001.[3] Saelua is a former performing arts student who studied at the University of Hawaiʻi.[6]

Club career[edit]

Saelua has played for former FFAS Senior League men's champions FC SKBC.[11][12] She now plays for and captain her village club Ilaoa and To'omata.[13][14][15] Following the 2023 OFC Champions League qualifying stage she announced that she was considering retirement.[16]

International career[edit]

Early career (2004–2011)[edit]

Saelua made her debut for the American Samoa national team as a 15-year-old during qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, appearing as a first-half substitute in an 11–0 defeat to Fiji.[3][17] She then made a further three substitute appearances in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, as well as 4 substitute appearances at the 2011 Pacific Games.[18][19][20][21][22][23][24]

2014 World Cup qualification campaign (2011)[edit]

With the arrival of coach Thomas Rongen in 2011, Saelua was given extended game time, and she made her first start for the team and achieved her first-ever international win against Tonga during qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.[3] Until this point, American Samoa had been outscored 229–12 in all the international matches it had played, and were joint-last in the FIFA World Rankings.[25] Saelua provided an assist and made a last-minute goalline clearance to help her team to the narrow 2–1 win, and she was declared woman of the match by her coach.[3][26] She was later sent a letter by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, recognising her achievements as the first openly transgender footballer to appear in a World Cup qualifying match.[27][28]

The team followed up the win against Tonga with a 1–1 draw with the Cook Islands.[26] Needing only a win in team's last game against bitter rivals Samoa to progress to the next stage of qualification, the team fell agonisingly short, hitting the post in the dying minutes before a last-gasp Samoa goal eliminated the rival from the tournament.[26]

American Samoa's efforts to qualify for the 2014 World Cup are chronicled in the 2014 British Documentary Film Next Goal Wins, in which Saelua plays an integral part.[29] The film also documents the team's 2011 Pacific Games campaign.[26]

Transition and 2019 Pacific Games (2015–2019)[edit]

Although intending to continue playing for the national team, Saelua was left out of the squad for qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.[3][30] This was in part because she was undergoing her medical transition at the time.[31] Saelua considered the possibility of playing for the American Samoa women's team after she had medically transitioned.[32]

Saelua was recalled to the men's national squad for the 2019 Pacific Games, joining veteran goalkeeper Nicky Salapu.[33] The team was managed by returning coach Tunoa Lui, who had previously presided over American Samoa's world-record 31–0 loss to Australia in 2001.[34][33] In the team's first match, they were praised for performing better than expected in a 5–0 loss to one of the pre-tournament favourites New Caledonia, and Saelua was praised for her defensive performance.[35] Saelua was also commended for her role in earning the team a 1–1 draw with Tuvalu.[36] She received a yellow card during the match.[37] This was the first game American Samoa had not lost at the tournament in 36 years.[38]

Managerial career[edit]

Saelua coached the American Samoan boys football team, Leone Lions, during the 2018–2019 Boys ASHSAA season.[39] She led the team to the 2018–2019 ASHSAA Boys J-V title, for which she received the "Coach of the Year Award" from the Football Federation American Samoa.[39][40]

Style of play[edit]

Saelua plays in full make-up whenever she takes to the football field.[41][42][43][44] She is known for her crunching tackles and is described as a defender who "takes no prisoners".[44][37]

Other football-related activities[edit]

Since becoming the first non-binary player to play in a FIFA-sanctioned tournament, Saelua has become a FIFA ambassador for equality and LGBT athletes.[45][31] She was also appointed to the jury of the FIFA Diversity Award.[46]

Saelua has also trained as a referee, and has helped referee matches in her American Samoan homeland.[47][14]

Personal life[edit]

Saelua is a fa'afafine, a third gender present in Polynesian society.[3][4] Saelua began her gender transition before the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers in 2015.[31][46][38] She has continued to play football after her transition, including at the 2019 Pacific Games.[31]

In popular culture[edit]

Saelua is featured in two films: firstly in the highly-rated 2014 British documentary film Next Goal Wins, which documents the American Samoan football team's attempts to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and first international win, and secondly in the upcoming Hollywood comedy-drama re-make of Next Goal Wins directed by Taika Waititi.[29][7] The re-make is expected to be released on November 17, 2023.[48]

Waititi considered casting Saelua in his adaptation of the 2014 documentary Next Goal Wins, which she had previously starred in, but he ultimately choose fellow Samoan fa'afafine Kaimana to play the role.[49][7]

Saelua is mentioned in the book Thirty-One Nil: On the Road With Football's Outsiders.[50] She is also mentioned in the children's book Football School Star Players: 50 Inspiring Stories of True Football Heroes.[51]

Career statistics[edit]

As of 18 July 2019
Appearances and goals by national team and year[11]
National team Year Apps Goals
American Samoa 2004 1 0
2007 3 0
2011 7 0
2019 4 0
Total 15 0


  1. ^ a b "Jaiyah Saelua". Global Sports Archive. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  2. ^ "Jaiyah Saelua FIFA profile". FIFA.com. Archived from the original on December 26, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Smith, Pete (August 28, 2014). "Jaiyah Saelua: if I experience transphobia I just tackle harder". The Guardian. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Gabriel Faatau'uu-Satiu, Football's first fa’afafine: trans rights trailblazer Jaiyah Saelua on stardom and sisterhood, 31 July 2020, The Guardian
  5. ^ "Football's first fa'afafine: Trans rights trailblazer Jaiyah Saelua on stardom and sisterhood". TheGuardian.com. July 31, 2020.
  6. ^ a b The Remarkable Story of American Samoa, BBC World Service, December 23, 2011
  7. ^ a b c Ewart, Richard (January 13, 2020). "Next Goal Wins - the Movie goes into post-production with a late 2020 release date anticipated". ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  8. ^ Cockerill, Michael (November 26, 2011). "Finally making history for all the right reasons". Sydney Morning Herald.
  9. ^ "VIDEO: "Next Goal Wins" trailer details 'worst team in the world'". NBC Sports Radio. February 20, 2014. Retrieved February 28, 2014.
  10. ^ "Hollywood treatment for American Samoa". FIFA World. March 13, 2013. Archived from the original on May 3, 2014. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
  11. ^ a b "Saelua, Jaiyah". National Football Teams. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
  12. ^ "SKBC (2013)". National Football Teams. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
  13. ^ Vitolio, Brian (October 16, 2018). "Tafuna Jets take away men's National Cup". Football Federation American Samoa. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
  14. ^ a b Saelua, Jaiyah (August 26, 2019). "Yesterday was the opening of the Football Federation American Samoa (FFAS) Senior National League. It was also my first day as an official FFAS Referee. I have to admit, it's quite difficult being on the officiating end of the match environment. The FFAS FIFA MA Refereeing Course helped a lot, so I'm extremely grateful for having been chosen to participate in the course. I was a 4th official for the 1st match of the day, an AR (Assistant Referee or Linesman) for the next 3 games, and ended the opening day playing a match with my village club, Ilaoa & To'omata, against Lion Heart Club (1-1 Draw)" (Post). Facebook. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
  15. ^ Saelua, Jaiyah (September 1, 2019). "The football club that I play for is called "Ilaoa & To'omata" from the village of Leone — the village I'm from. Today, we played Utulei Youth, the number 2 team in the league. Although we lost the match, it was my first time scoring a goal in an FFAS senior national tournament. By the end of the match, I had scored 3 goals! I don't usually play up front, but I felt the need to, considering we were down by so many goals. Sometimes, as the captain, you have to read the game & make decisions based on what's best for your team. If there's one positive thing that came out of my team's performance today & the result of the match, it's that it helped me realize what we need to work on. Final score: Utulei Youth - 9 Ilaoa & To'omata - 3" (Post). Facebook. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  16. ^ Gutu Faasau (February 22, 2023). "Jaiyah looks at hanging boots after 20 years". Samoa Observer. Retrieved February 26, 2023.
  17. ^ "Fiji vs. American Samoa 11-0". Soccerway. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  18. ^ "American Samoa vs. Samoa 0-7". Soccerway. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  19. ^ "American Samoa vs. Vanuatu 0-15". Soccerway. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  20. ^ "Tonga vs. American Samoa 4-0". Soccerway. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  21. ^ "American Samoa 0-4 Solomon Islands". oceaniafootball.com. August 30, 2011. Archived from the original on September 8, 2012. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  22. ^ "American Samoa 0-2 Guam". oceaniafootball.com. September 1, 2011. Archived from the original on September 8, 2012. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  23. ^ "New Caladonia 8-0 American Samoa". oceaniafootball.com. September 3, 2011. Archived from the original on September 10, 2012. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  24. ^ "American Samoa 0-8 Vanuatu". oceaniafootball.com. September 4, 2011. Archived from the original on September 10, 2012. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  25. ^ Montague, James (November 23, 2011). "For American Samoa, a Win Ignites a World Cup Dream". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
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  27. ^ Unorthodox Football (May 8, 2014). "Unorthodox football interviews- Jaiyah Saelua and Thomas Rongen of Next Goal Wins". YouTube. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  28. ^ Briggs, Simon (May 2, 2014). "Next Goal Wins star Jaiyah Saelua is the transgender John Terry - and plays in the world's worst international team". The Telegraph. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  29. ^ a b Geoghagen, Kev (May 6, 2014). "Next Goal Wins for 'world's worst football team'". BBC News. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
  30. ^ Tifo Football. "FIFA World Cup 2018™: Story of Qualification Part 1". YouTube. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  31. ^ a b c d Bjerkevoll, Ola (July 10, 2019). "INTERVIEW: American Samoa's Nicky Salapu and Jaiyah Saelua on their love of the game". Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  32. ^ "World's First Transgender Footballer I The Feed". YouTube. June 12, 2014. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  33. ^ a b Vitolio, Brian (July 5, 2019). "American Samoa men's National Team ready to play". Football Federation American Samoa. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  34. ^ Rockwood, Dan (April 11, 2001). "Aussie Rules as Socceroos smash world record again". The Guardian. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  35. ^ "The Pacific Games Day 1: Raining, and raining goals". Football in Oceania. July 8, 2019. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  36. ^ Vitolo, Brian (July 12, 2019). "American Samoa draw with Tuvalu 1-1". Football Federation American Samoa. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
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  39. ^ a b Vitolio, Brian (April 15, 2019). "Leone Lions are repeat champions in Boys J-V soccer". Football Federation American Samoa. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  40. ^ Football Federation American Samoa (April 12, 2019). "Jaiyah Saelua (2nd from left) receives the ASHSAA Boys J-V Coach of the Year Award after helping to guide the Leone Lions squad to the championship title for the 2018-2019 year" (Post). Facebook. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  41. ^ Parry, Tom (May 5, 2014). "The transgender defender and new coach trying to turn the world's worst football team around". The Daily Mirror. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  42. ^ "LGBT Football". The FA. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
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  47. ^ Vitolio, Brian (August 9, 2019). "FFAS FIFA-MA Referee Course Ends". Football Federation American Samoa. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
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  51. ^ Bellos, Alex; Lyttleton, Ben (May 2, 2019). Football School Star Players: 50 Inspiring Stories of True Football Heroes. Walker Books. ISBN 978-1406386417.