Shalom Luani has set aside his identity as an international soccer player to compete for a starting safety spot with the Cougars.
PULLMAN — Shalom Luani was the youngest player on the worst team in the world when he scored a goal that lifted American Samoa from the cellar of international soccer.
Four years later, at Washington State, the Cougars hope he can have a similar effect on a fledgling defensive backfield.
With American Samoa nursing a 1-0 lead in the second half of a World Cup qualifying match against Tonga in 2011, the 17-year-old forward lofted a scoring shot that just escaped the goalie’s glove. The goal led to a 2-1 win, the first victory in 17 years of international play for America Samoa.
For now, though, the soccer team will have to continue without the star forward whose two goals make him the country’s co-leading goal-scorer of all time.
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Luani has spent the last three years focusing on American football.
“For right now, I’m for sure done with soccer. I just want to pay attention to one thing and pursue it,” Luani said. “I just started playing football when I was a freshman (in high school) and I realized I loved contact.”
That love of contact has served Luani well at WSU, which has seven natives of American Samoa on the squad this season.
Luani arrived in time for fall camp with the athletic eligibility of a junior after stints at Chabot College and the City College of San Francisco.
When he first came to the United States, he tried to hide his status as an international soccer player, but was found out when his teammates kept wondering why the hard-hitting safety was such a good kicker.
The Cougars recruited Luani out of junior college to play right away, and he has climbed up the depth chart at safety, currently on the second team.
He has been a quick study in pass coverage, which is good news for a defense that intercepted just three passes last season.
So far, Luani says, the lessons he learned as a soccer player have served him well.
“The thing is, it’s just me applying (soccer) to football,” he said. “Because it’s a lot of running.”