The Philippine women’s football team has achieved one milestone after another.
The Philippines made its debut at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the first Philippine team – men’s or women’s – to participate in the quadrennial event.
Sarina Bolden headed home the country’s first World Cup goal to lead to a surprise 1-0 victory over co-hosts New Zealand.
The Philippines has captured the hearts of football fans around the world and inspired a basketball-loving nation.
Despite having reached the highest level of competitive football, the Philippines has yet to establish a professional women’s league.
The country has developed close ties with Australian coaches, including Perth Glory men’s coach Alen Stajcic, who led the Philippines to the World Cup, Glory women’s manager Alex Epakis, and current coach- head of the Philippines, Mark Torcaso, who concurrently runs Western United.
This led to Filipino footballers Jessika Cowart, Quinley Quezada and Jaclyn Sawicki being invited to contribute their talents to the Women’s A-League.
“It’s a great opportunity to play in an incredible league and I think history shows a lot of incredible players have come through this league,” Perth Glory defender Cowart said.
“The attention on the league and its standard has really increased over the last couple of years, so this is a great opportunity for us to show we can play good football.”
Help build a culture
California-born Cowart and Quezada grew up playing soccer in the United States before pursuing opportunities in various professional leagues in Asia and Europe.
They became pillars of the Philippines team and played a pivotal role in the country’s preparation for the World Cup, including winning the historic ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) women’s champion title.
The Filipino duo got to know Perth Glory manager Epakis when Stajcic invited him to join the Philippines coaching staff as an opposition analyst.
While embracing the opportunity to be part of a World Cup team, the 32-year-old coach was eager to learn how to build a winning team with a great culture in Perth.
With this goal in mind, the characteristics of Cowart and Quezada stood out to him.
“They are players and good people with a great winning mentality,” Epakis said.
“And I saw that not only were they great footballers, but they also had the ability to bring out the best in their teammates thanks to their great personalities and their values as people.”
Cowart and Quezada said Epakis had done a good job of being “persistent” to convince them and deliver on his promises regarding the Perth Glory team.
Both players admitted that their experience in the ALW exceeded their expectations, as they quickly integrated into the team despite having to fulfill their national team duties at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, in China.
“The girls and all the staff did a really good job welcoming us to adapt to the new system that Alex wanted to put in place this year,” Quezada said.
“All the girls came out for the season just to have a good team culture and it really shows on and off the field. We’re just a very happy team.”
Having played in countries where English is not the primary language has strengthened Quezada and Cowart’s abilities to overcome language barriers, while quickly adapting to different soccer cultures.
“As we have traveled a lot and been on different teams, we are used to adapting, but having a very good culture, a good coach, good staff and players around us has been very helpful,” Cowart said.
Relaunch your professional career
For Western United’s Sawicki, she had already given up her football career before being offered to play for the national team again.
Following her time at Swedish second division club Elitettan, the 30-year-old midfielder suffered a chronic knee injury, which coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing her to retire from the sport.
Sawicki was already working as a general manager at a soccer training center and health and wellness center without soccer in mind, but she was surprised to receive a call from the Philippines to join their training camp in 2022 .
“For most people, you get invited to the national team because you do well with your club,” Sawicki said.
“I wasn’t doing anything at all, but the national team had contacted me to ask if I wanted to come to the next camp. It was a bit of a shock because I wasn’t playing professionally anymore.
“I just decided to go for it, see how I did, and from there I stuck with it and eventually came back into the professional club environment.”
But in order to be at her best before the World Cup, Sawicki knew she had to return to club football.
Born and raised in Canada, Sawicki’s home country also did not have a professional league. This led to her interest in playing in the Women’s A-League.
By chance, Western United manager Torcaso was looking for a defensive midfielder and contacted Stajcic, who then recommended Sawicki to join the club.
“The timing of this conversation worked because it took place before our AFF championships, in the Philippines,” Sawicki said.
“Mark had the opportunity to watch me play throughout that period of the tournament, as well as my past streaks, and I guess he felt I was good enough and offered me a contract from there. “
Since joining Western United in August 2022, the Filipino-Canadian has had a positive experience with the team and was named club captain in her first season.
Not only did she develop close relationships with her teammates, but the competitiveness of the league gave her a taste of the World Cup.
“There are a lot of international footballers in the league, so in terms of competition and level of play, I consider it very enjoyable and very competitive, and it was a great platform to prepare myself to make the list of the World Cup,” she said.
Ride the World Cup fever
Playing in a league far from their home country, the Philippines continued to attract support from the diaspora.
Quezada shared that she continues to see Filipino fans in Perth waving the flag during their matches, and that the Filipino community descended on the airport to welcome the Philippine team playing in the second round of Olympic qualifying in the city .
Loading Instagram content
Due to high demand, Football Australia had to move the venue of the Philippines’ recent match against the Matildas to Perth Stadium, which attracted nearly 60,000 sold-out spectators.
With the presence of Filipinos in the ALW, they hope to inspire the next generation of Filipino footballers so that more of them can participate in high-level global competitions as the game grows.
“We can help the younger generation of the Philippines to get the same support in professional sports. Hopefully they see us and see what we are doing to know that it is possible for them too,” Quezada said.
“I think it also goes hand in hand with the development of football.”
Beatrice Go is an independent journalist and researcher from the Philippines. She was a former Rappler Sports multimedia journalist covering sports governance, national teams and athletes.
She is a member of ABC International Development’s Women in News and Sport initiative, funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Team Up program.