Mark Mangune would send the DMs after mundane days at his telecommunications job in Michigan. Sofia Harrison received hers on Instagram in 2017 and found it “a little sketchy.” She was a freshman at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. Mangune was a self-described “random dude” who’d spend idle time on message boards — until, that is, the Philippines Football Federation gave him a title.
Officially, in 2012, Mangune became the PFF’s volunteer “liaison and recruitment officer.”
Unofficially, he became an architect of America’s other Women’s World Cup team.
He’d scour the United States for young soccer players like Harrison, the Maryland-born daughter of a Filipina mother. He’d invite them to try out for the Philippines women’s national team. Some would ignore the apparent absurdity, some suspected a prank and most had never even considered the possibility. But over time, hundreds jumped at this unexpected opportunity. They transformed an underfunded, overmatched team into a first-time World Cup qualifier. And they became the 2023 tournament’s quirkiest story.
They’ll debut against Switzerland on Friday (1 a.m. ET, FS1) with a Philippines crest above their hearts.
But only one of the squad’s 23 players was born in the Philippines; 18 of 23 were born in America.
They’re the daughters and granddaughters of 20th-century Filipino migrants and members of a sprawling diaspora across the U.S. Many grew up somewhat distanced from their Filipino heritage, but reconnected as it became a vehicle to soccer’s grandest stage. “It’s not something that can be controlled by borders,” defender Dominique Randle says. “It's a part of who you are.” It bonds over 4 million Americans, and millions more across the globe, to a shared history, a shared experience, a shared identity.
It hasn’t fully deterred resentment. The “heritage players,” as some call them, have almost entirely supplanted homegrown veterans, some of whom “feel kind of pushed aside,” says longtime supporter Venice Furio. In interviews, a few of the team’s Filipino American stars acknowledged skepticism. So did Mangune and Butchie Impelido, a Chicagoland IT worker and fellow architect of the Philippines women’s national team pipeline.
But skepticism didn’t stop them from scanning college rosters for Filipino-looking faces, or listening for Filipino-sounding accents at youth soccer events.
They’d cold-call coaches and dig for Filipino hints on players’ Facebook pages.
They ultimately built a database of “maybe 800 girls,” Mangune estimates, some of whom are now in New Zealand at the World Cup.
And they never asked for a penny. “I'm not aware of any official paid scout,” Impelido says. “It's just on us, our love for football, and for the Philippines.”
Creating a path for Filipino Americans to represent Philippines
Impelido spent his first decade in America wholly unaware that the Philippines women’s national team existed. He’d been born and raised in the Asian archipelago, but only followed men’s soccer. The women’s program had largely been neglected and would sometimes go years without even playing a game.
Then, in 2005, Impelido stumbled upon an article featuring Karem Esteva, a Filipino American former star at the University of Virginia — and a lightbulb flickered inside his head.
Impelido had three daughters, and the eldest, Angeline, played soccer collegiately at Northern Illinois.
He sent some emails, and made some phone calls, and secured an invitation from Philippines head coach Marlon Maro. He presented his preposterous idea to Angeline — who “was very hesitant,” Butchie recalls. She’d been born in the Philippines, but largely raised in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. The thought of finishing up school, flying to Manila, and then to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and Hanoi, was a bit overwhelming. “I had to convince her,” Butchie says.
But he succeeded. And together, they laid the pipeline’s foundation.
Impelido’s youngest daughter, Patrice, a high schooler, soon made the team as well. And as they traveled the world, sporadically, Butchie began an informal search for potential Filipino American teammates. He began on internet forums, on independent websites. He’d spread the word, and connect with parents, and pitch an experience that, he admits, was not glamorous. The team would train on choppy grass fields and often share them with track-and-field athletes. “You had to make sure the javelin players are not throwing,” he says with a laugh. “You could see the holes on the field.”
But his daughters savored it. Patrice eventually became an assistant coach and now lives in the Philippines. Butchie, meanwhile, developed a relationship with the PFF and would share lists of prospects with coaches. In 2011 or 2012, while perusing the USAPANG Football message boards, he stumbled upon one particularly thorough list — so thorough that Ernie Nierras, the national team head coach at the time, sought out its mastermind.
Player pool for Philippines women's national team expands
Mangune was born in Davao City, Philippines, but raised in Waterford, Michigan, and that’s where his Filipino soccer obsession germinated. His dad was a coach and guided Mark’s journey through youth clubs to high school, all of which fueled his interest in the sport’s broader landscape. In the '90s and early 2000s, he’d scrub newspapers and nascent websites for news about the Philippines national teams — and often found it hard to come by.
Neither the men’s team, nicknamed the Azkals, nor the women’s team, the Malditas, had ever come remotely close to making a World Cup. They were overshadowed by basketball domestically, and overpowered by Asian stalwarts like Japan and Korea. The Malditas once lost to China 21-0.
So coverage was sparse. Most of it gravitated toward the men’s team. But Mangune’s niche curiosity drew him toward the women’s team. His obsession led him to the “scouting” section of message boards, which is where he’d post about potential Filipino American players; which is how Impelido found him and why Nierras wanted to talk to him.
Impelido reached out, then made the introduction. Nierras explained that the national team had been invited to the LA Viking Cup 2012, a one-off tournament featuring amateur American club teams in Los Angeles. Nierras wanted to pair the games with an “identification camp,” essentially an extended tryout for U.S.-based players. And he wanted Mangune to find them.
I don't know if the federation was purely down with what we were doing.Mark Mangune
So Mangune went to work. He began with college rosters. He’d take note of names and faces that seemed Filipino, “but you still have to verify that. So you dig deeper,” Mangune says. “You go and you either talk to the coach, or maybe I'll find them on Facebook.” He’d occasionally be wrong; so would Impelido. “But hey,” Impelido says with a laugh, “I don't care.”
When they were right, they’d reach out to players, and that’s when some would respond: “Who the heck are you?”
“Initially, I wasn't getting replies,” Mangune says. “I mean, as great and as cool as it sounds to be wanted by the Philippines women's national team, they weren't sure if they could believe this.”
But he was tireless. Impelido, meanwhile, worked with the PFF to arrange logistics. Clint McDaniel, a local soccer coach married to a Filipina, helped secure fields in Corona, California, which became the national team’s stateside hub. His wife, Lindy, helped with accommodations as well. And all of it was necessary because Mangune had blown away expectations.
“I think Ernie would've been happy if we were able to get 15-20 girls to show up at this camp,” Mangune says. “We got 150.”
They went on to win the Viking Cup. Mangune got his official title. He spent the coming years building Facebook pages and other social networks. The player pool expanded. And before long, its growth became organic.
Initially, Mangune says, “I don't know if the federation was purely down with what we were doing.” But now there was no going back.
'We've always had the quality of the players'
Quinley Quezada was a sophomore at the University of California, Riverside, in 2017 when her college coach caught wind of opportunity. The Philippines, her mother’s homeland, was holding tryouts 15 minutes away. Word had spread through the SoCal soccer community; it no longer relied exclusively on Impelido or Mangune. Quezada was intrigued and showed up. So did several other future pros who’d ultimately make the 2023 World Cup squad.
But what they didn’t yet have was the backing of a functional federation.
Nierras had been ousted after a flop at the 2013 Southeast Asian Games — losses to Vietnam and Myanmar by a combined 9-0 scoreline — and after one Filipino American player got stranded at the airport, allegedly because a stolen credit card had been used to book her ticket.
Years later, in 2017 and 2018, the PFF cycled through four different coaches, with two serving two separate stints.
Players showed up to a camp ahead of the 2018 Asian Cup, which served as 2019 World Cup qualifying, only to find out that they’d have a new coaching staff for the tournament — “out of nowhere,” Quezada says.
They’d also train in mismatched old kits. “They literally had to bring up scraps to have gear to wear,” Quezada says. They’d dig up jerseys from previous tournaments and wait for on-the-fly instructions from team management, such as: “On Monday, wear white.”
“We've always had the quality of the players,” says Mangune. “Even the 2013 group was unbelievable. We just didn't have the finances to prepare the team properly and maybe they didn't have the coach.”
That’s what changed in recent years. Filipino businessman Jeff Cheng threw his financial weight behind the Malditas. Cheng also worked his Aussie connections to hire Alen Stajcic, who’d led Australia to the 2015 Women’s World Cup quarterfinals. Players arrived at their first camp under Stajcic to find, finally, a professional environment. They’d meet before training. They’d follow a semi-regimented schedule. “It was very organized,” Quezada says.
Their squad, meanwhile, was deeper than ever, because the recruitment script had flipped. It was now the players sending Instagram DMs, contacting the PFF, Mangune or Impelido. There are now multiple bars to clear. Whereas the 2012 tryouts were essentially open, Stajcic now asks for player profiles and video highlights.
And whereas they once practically begged for participation, “Now,” Impelido says, “it's almost like, ‘Yeah, show me your passport so that we can start talking to you.’”
Malditas secure Philippines' first World Cup bid
Dominique Randle learned how painstaking the passport process can be during her 2021 race against the clock. A former national champion defender at the University of Southern California, she’d been out of soccer for multiple years when her old club coach called with news of a Philippines tryout. Randle was up for the adventure. The question then became whether she could procure a passport in time for the 2022 Asian Cup.
So she called Impelido, as players always do. He asked her a series of questions.
They concluded that the answer was yes — Randle’s Filipino maternal grandparents qualified her for citizenship and also allowed her to meet FIFA’s eligibility requirements — but that the journey might be long. It’s often longer for second-generation Filipino Americans. It’s especially long, Randle explains, if grandparents became naturalized American citizens before the parent was born. But fortunately for her, her mom had been born in Chicago before either grandparent had naturalized.
So Randle mined old boxes for her grandmother’s original documents. She called the Chicago consulate and the San Francisco consulate, and others who gave her conflicting answers. Her head spun. She’d heard “horror stories” of years-long processes. Eventually, she hired an immigration lawyer. “Best $300 I ever spent,” she says with a smile.
She got the passport just in time to make Stajcic’s roster for the Asian Cup. She’d never set foot outside North America before, but she jumped straight into the starting lineup, alongside Missouri-born captain Hali Long at center back. The team needed to reach the semifinals to punch a World Cup ticket. It beat Thailand, a longtime nemesis, in its opener to earn a favorable quarterfinal draw.
There, with a maiden World Cup on the line, and with a starting 11 entirely born in the USA, it topped Chinese Taipei on penalties.
The players sprinted toward one another and cried joyous tears.
It was a "whirl of emotions,” Harrison says, and it not only propelled them to New Zealand this summer; it brought them closer to their families’ heritage than ever before.
When I was younger, I didn't really understand what it meant to be Pinay. And being able to play with the national team has allowed me to be more of myself and bring that out of me.Sofia Harrison
“When I was younger, I didn't really understand what it meant to be Pinay,” Harrison admits. “And being able to play with the national team has allowed me to be more of myself and bring that out of me.”
Quezada, whose mother is Filipino and father Mexican, felt similarly. “I was more in tune with my Mexican side growing up,” she says. “It wasn't until I was involved with the national team where I really felt that connection with my Filipino side.”
'It's all for the country and for the flag'
Randle, likewise, doesn’t hesitate to admit that the past 18 months have come with a learning curve — learning about international soccer, yes, but also about the country she now represents. She’d spent part of her childhood surrounded by Filipino family in Southern California. But the nation’s history, and its culture, and the meaning of its anthem and flag — “It's one of those things I wasn't really taught,” Randle says. So she’s spoken with her new Filipino-born teammates, her mind open.
But those teammates have dwindled. There is only one homegrown player, midfielder Anicka Castañeda, on the World Cup roster. And so of course there are complicated questions about how much this team truly represents the Philippines.
“For some folks, the current players on the national team now aren't relatable,” says Furio, the longtime Malditas follower. “For them, like, ‘Who are you? Where have you been all this time? You're only here because you want to play for the World Cup.’
“But in the end,” Furio says, clarifying her support, “it's all for the country and for the flag.”
“We all share the same culture and heritage,” Harrison says. “And to be able to live that out while we're playing together is so very special. Everyone loves the country so much, and we wanna do everything we can to show that, and to prove that we're here for the country. We're not just doing it for ourselves, we're doing it for the country, for the kids, for the future.”
That, precisely, is what Impelido has tried to do as well. For years, through relationships with U.S. soccer clubs and park districts, he’s been gathering surplus jerseys and equipment and shipping it to the Philippines. It supports Gawad Kalinga’s SipaG program for kids from underprivileged Filipino communities, the very kids who announced the World Cup roster’s 23 names in a powerful video produced by the PFF.
— Philippine WNT ⚽ (@PilipinasWNFT) July 9, 2023
The long-term hope is that those 23 will inspire thousands more of those girls, and grassroots growth across the nation. That this foreign intervention will yield lasting domestic benefits across 2,000 islands and 117 million people.
And that, decades from now, the hundreds of hours that Impelido and Mangune logged will no longer be necessary.
“I mean, it's nice to have foreign-based players,” Impelido says. “But then eventually, you have to grow [players] also.”