By NICHOLAS MURRAY – email@example.com
Saturday, February 6, 2016
A soccer player growing up in a country ruled by rugby, James Musa’s persevered as he worked to improve in what often proved to be trying circumstances.
After his performance for Saint Louis FC in 2015, when Musa was a key figure in the club’s inaugural season, the club’s fans are certainly happy that Musa found the break he needed to begin his path into the professional ranks.
“I was able to get a lucky break when I was coming out at 17, 18 out of high school, and it all started from there, really,” Musa said this week. “The goalkeeper coach down at the Wellington Phoenix used to coach one of the national league sides, and he saw me play about a year or two before that when I was a bit younger, and he gave me the opportunity to come down and train for a couple of days and play a reserves match, and they liked what they saw at that time.
“I was only 17, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but I ended up signing and it all went from there. That was the start of my professional career, and I don’t think if I’d had that step I would have pursued football professionally.”
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New Zealand has long been a country where rugby union and the country’s national team the All Blacks have been a national obsession. In more recent years soccer has begun to build a foothold, in part thanks to the A-League, of which the Phoenix are a part. New Zealand was part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and two years later Musa was part of the country’s Olympic squad that competed at the London Games.
“I can’t even believe it’s been four years, to be honest, but those experiences were fantastic for me,” Musa said. “I was around the likes of Ryan Nelsen and things like that, just learning new things off them and getting to go away and play against top-class players was a huge eye-opener, and a good experience.”
Musa brought that experience to Saint Louis for the club’s inaugural season, and was one of the club’s most consistent performers in his 22 regular-season appearances. Adjusting to the higher tempo and more physical American style of play, Musa was pleased with the way the team battled throughout the season, which resulted in a strong uptick of form in the final third of the season.
“It was good for the fans and good for everyone involved with the club because we went through a bit of a purple patch in the middle of the season where we couldn’t buy a win at home, and I think that’s what rooted us down during last season,” Musa said. “We were quite good on the road, but at home we just couldn’t win to save ourselves, so I think those two wins at the end of the season at home was encouraging for what was to come this season. If we can just take that form that we had in the latter half of the season to the start of this season, I think we’ll be good.”
Musa’s presence also produced one of the more interesting social media accounts within the USL, with James Musa's Cap bemusing both he and his teammates.
“One of the lads actually approached me and asked, ‘what’s this thing?’” Musa laughed. “I don’t even have Twitter, so I wasn’t really aware even of any show, so we were laughing over it. I have no idea who runs that page, or who’s involved with it, so everyone just kinda laughs at it.”
The support the club has received since it was announced has been a big plus for its players. Musa said repaying that commitment to the club in the stands has been a major motivation for the new season, as Saint Louis looks to push higher after joining the Western Conference.
“There’s a lot of support for it down here. There’s a lot of young kids aspiring to be where we are, and that shows at the games,” Musa said. “The crowds are always turning out in full force and there’s always that expectation around the team, so hopefully we can perform this year and pay back that support.
“There’s nothing worse than when you’re playing you’re thinking that you’re underachieving, so I just want to be winning and hopefully up around the top of the table.”