by Kris Goman (22/3/23)
Above: Sarina Bolden has enjoyed herself since arriving at Western Sydney Wanderers. Photo: Keep Up.
A few weeks ago, Kris Goman caught up with Sarina Bolden for our Midweek Dub feature. Sarina had not long before arrived in Australia to join the Western Sydney Wanderers and injected a new lease of life into the team, kicking off a winning streak that defeated some of the top teams in the league.
The conversation ranged widely and covers Sarina’s football history, her experience in Japan, thoughts on the Wanderers, the upcoming Women’s World Cup, The Philippines Women’s National Team and impressions of Australia. It makes for an entertaining read so put aside a little time and learn all about Sarina Bolden.
Kris Goman (KG:) Do you want to just give us a bit of background on your football career so far?
Sarina Bolden (SB): Yeah, so this might be a little long-winded, but basically just been playing since a super young age around five or six. In America, the route that most people take is you kind of play in high school and then you kind of also add like your Academy team or like the equivalent to institute you kind of play those together in your youth and then after high school kind of ends, you go into the college route.
I went to a Division One college. I played all four years and stayed in the same state that I’m from California. I’m from Northern California, so I just kind of moved to Southern California to go to school and play soccer at the same time, so that was a really good experience overall. And then, when it kind of hit my senior year, my fourth year, I was like okay. Do I want to play professionally? Do I want to go play abroad, and so had that kind of conversation with myself. I was like, yeah, I’ll give it a try. So I went abroad to Sweden on trial for their third-tier league. It’s called Division Two, but it was the 3rd tier down.
So that was just for a short amount of time. Three-four months. And then kind of mixing everything into there, also playing for the Philippine Women’s National Team. So, around like my junior senior year of college. So third or fourth year, that’s when I kind of started to add the national team in and so by the time I finished my time in Sweden, I had rejoined the national team to like seriously like play more with them because it was hard to juggle college and national team responsibilities. So once I was finally going to college I finished Sweden.
I then joined the national team to go play and a tournament called South East Asian Games. It’s kind of like the equivalent to the Olympics, but just like more like just specific to the South East Asian countries. So that was really big and that was really fun.
That was around the end of 2019 going into 2020 and when I finished my time with that tournament, I wanted to still play abroad, so I was on track to go play in Taiwan, but then 2020 came around with COVID so that didn’t actually come to fruition. So there was a bit of time for about a year or a year and a half where I was just trying to figure things out. Was I gonna continue with the soccer route? I was 23 or 24 trying to figure out do I want to continue because I’d already been playing for so long so it was kind of like a nice break to kind of be away from soccer.
So in 2020 I just kind of figured out, okay, do I use my degree? I’m a business management degree so do I put that to use? I don’t know. So just was at home with family so spending time with family and then this is around the time when in 2021 I got an opportunity to go play in Japan. In their first ever professional league called the Women’s Empowerment League – WE League. So fast forward to 2021-2022. That was my first season with Chifure AS Elfen Saitama.
That was really great. Really different style, different culture from what I was used to in America and in Sweden. I did that first season and half. At the same time, I was doing stuff for the national team. Qualified for the World Cup in the middle of all that. Played in other tournaments and we were just kind of breaking records creating history these past this past year, year and a half.
So I was juggling most recently Japan and national team. And now fast forward to right now. I just kind of wasn’t really overall happy in Japan, so that’s just kind of what catapulted my move to Australia and now.
KG: OK, so I’ve probably got some questions that’s going to touch on a few of those things, but you were called up to the US Women’s National Team under 23 team when you were younger, weren’t you? So was it difficult to choose to play for the Philippines instead of going down that US route?
SB: It was definitely something to think about for a while when I found out because I honestly didn’t know that you couldn’t like flip flop. But obviously, it makes sense if you have dual citizenship. I didn’t have a lot of time to make a decision because I was trying out and we were getting ready to go full throttle into the AFC World Cup qualifiers.
So it was kind of like pressured, where OK, I have this great opportunity to play World Cup qualifiers. When am I’m ever gonna get this chance, not to say that I wouldn’t be able to ever get the chance of the US, but obviously US is number one, they’ve been number one for a very long time and it’s highly competitive. Girls have been there, have been there for years and they still haven’t even gotten the chance and I’ve only had a U23 camp under my belt.
Until that opportunity where I was like, OK, do I decide? Do I go? Do I not? And the ultimate factor for me was I want to be able to play in the World Cup if that ever happens. I want playing time. I wanna make a lot of impact. I wanna make a name for myself and I feel like the best chance I’m going to be able to do that is with the Philippines.
I also really wanted to kind of connect with my other side. I’ve grown up in the US, so I obviously very Americanised, but I had never gotten an opportunity to go to the Philippines or even connect with family out there. So that was also a part of my decision too, and I’m really grateful and happy that I made the decision because I just got to know so much about my other side.
The other side of me by just simply deciding to play for the national team. I’ve already been to the Philippines three or four times now just through soccer. And that’s really opened my mind. You know, besides the soccer aspect, just like on a human level.
KG: So what about the NWSL? You didn’t put yourself up for a draft? Is that a tempting thing still or is it kind of don’t know, don’t care anymore or what?
SB: The NWSL is definitely something that’s in the back of my head – front and back of my head. It’s definitely something that’s very enticing and just because the league is constantly growing and it’s a very good league. Very competitive.
I never put my name into it just because of the way my college was set up where my fourth year, when I was finishing school, that spring season is when the draft was starting and when girls were going into pre-season but I still had school to finish and for me, I really just wanted to finish my degree. Get that under my belt. I don’t want to have to worry about it and come back to it later. I wasn’t too fond of school so I just wanted to get it done. I know myself and I don’t know if I would have come back to finish quite honestly.
KG: Yeah, fair enough.
SB: I wish because I know at other schools they would have girls come in early and take more classes so they would finish before that spring season so they would already be done, graduated and wouldn’t have to worry about that just because the NWSL is a little weird. At least while I was growing up, it kind of clashed with people finishing their degrees and for me that kind of happened.
I did get to try out and go and get invited when Utah Royals were a team. I think they disbanded, but they might return. They might return to the league soon I did get a chance to try out. Didn’t get a call back so after that I was like all right until the next thing and that’s why I didn’t get my name drafted and that’s why I kind of just decided to go to Sweden.
KG: Fair enough, so you just come from the Japan League and you said you weren’t particularly happy there. So what’s the main differences between there and the A-League or even Japan and Australia? I mean I know there’s massive difference between Japan and Australia, but in the leagues in particular.
SB: Yeah, the league, I would say, just to start off with, the style of soccer alone is obviously very different. Japan is, in my opinion, very technical, very. You have to have a good first touch. The passing percentage is pretty high cause everyone’s being able to just knock the ball pretty easily like it’s kind of passing around mannequins at times, depending on who you play and even during training.
Girls are so highly technical and they’re also very organised. Defensively, everyone knows when to move and it doesn’t seem disorganised or chaotic. It’s just because everyone’s on the same page, and even when we’re having meetings and before we have training, everything’s explained to us. This is what’s going to happen, before training.
Granted, it’s all in Japanese and I didn’t know what was going on. I had to like wait and get it secondhand to get the information about meetings. But everything was kind of explicitly said. Hey, we’re gonna do XYZ for today. OK, we’re gonna be in and out for an hour and they pretty much stick to that time limit and wouldn’t really go over much, but very technical. Very, very technical.
On the flipside I would say Australia, obviously, I haven’t been here for too long, but just in the short time I’ve been here in the league, it is very strong, very physical, very direct, but I would say a lot of the style of Australian soccer is that people are pretty decent in all aspects of the game. People are, technically they are right.
They’ve got good ball skills but at the same time, they’re strong on the ball. Game management is also really big.
You still wanna go for the call and it’s kind of more of like a respect thing. We’re not gonna slow down the game and or we’re not really gonna complain to the ref. That really doesn’t happen either. Only if it’s really, really, really bad. I’ve only experienced it once where the other team was kind of like what was that called? But during my whole time, no one really kind of says anything as opposed to here, like it doesn’t matter.
You’re saying something to the ref all of the time. You know, trying to trying to fight and stand up for yourself, and if you thought it was a different call and at least letting the ref know. So there’s pros and cons to that and that’s interesting, yeah.
Yeah, there’s just somethings that I’ve noticed and like there’s positives to both aspects of the game and there’s things that, at times I’m like, OK, let’s be a little bit more technical. You know when I’m here in Australia or when I was in Japan like I wish people were talking to the ref or you know yelling and just trying to like be smarter with the game management and different things so those are just a few of the things that I noticed. But both leagues, both styles of soccer are very, very good and you know, as you know, I’m preparing for a World Cup so I think getting exposure to both of those things has really helped me as a player.
KG: So you’ve been on the Philippines National Team for a while now and you did very well in the Asian Cup, making the semis and qualifying for the World Cup. So what’s been the big difference with the team lately?
SB: I wouldn’t say there’s really a difference. Everyone’s pretty much on the same page of what the goals are in regards to, you know, doing our best in the World Cup. We don’t want to just show up and have a good time, we’re really there to compete. We have a fair amount of camps leading up to the World Cup, and then we also have the Olympic qualifiers, very close to when we go to the World Cup.
We’ve never qualified for the Olympics, but you know, that’s another thing that we want to check off our list. And it’s fairly hard for the Olympics, if not harder to qualify for the Olympics than it is for the World Cup. So a lot of things that we’re doing are for the first time.
And in a weird way, it’s everything we’re doing is different, but we all have our principles and we all have their standards and that’s what kind of guides us to exploring these different things that we’re experiencing for the first time. And as long as we stick to the principles, we’re pretty confident in a lot of the new adventures that we have in front of us.
KG: So what sort of impact has Alen Stajcic had on the team and on yourself personally?
SB: Huge, just a huge impact I think. If you just watch one game of ours. If you compare before he was our coach to now, I think you can just see. Just to sum it up, we’re a lot more confident as a team. I think before it was a little bit like, kind of playing that stronger opposition like Thailand, Vietnam. Even Myanmar, those were really the three we would see a lot, and going into matches like that, it was like oh well, we hope we at least kind of put up a goal or like, maybe, maybe we’ll tie, maybe we’ll tie, like we’ll hope and pray we tie but or you know, the best case scenario is we don’t get a thrashing or anything but that that kind of mindset has shifted.
Now it’s like oh no we can compete and if not like win and now we’re definitely going to win. So like I think he’s changed our mindset.
He’s obviously changed, like the way we play soccer, and, you know, just being more skilful, more thoughtful. I think on an individual level I’ve just grown so much under his leadership, not only him, but the other staff that we have. They’ve kind of really taught us to just be more of a student of the game because you really do have to think while you’re out there, you can’t just get away with just raw talent.
I think maybe back in the day, it was a little bit easier to go off of that, but now think the game is a little bit high paced. There’s more things that you have to think about and do, and if you’re not thinking, the good teams are really just gonna stomp on you. So you’re not going to be able to do much or make an impact. He’s just really upped the level for us and he’s just a really good coach and has really just elevated us as a group and just for me as an individual as well.
KG: Alright, so how excited are the team to go to the World Cup?
SB: Ecstatic, absolutely ecstatic it still just kind of shocks me when I think about it. I’m like, ‘oh my gosh, like we qualified.’ I think I was just talking to one of my friends and I think it was either yesterday or the day before yesterday. It’s like the anniversary of when we qualified. I was like, wow, that’s like, that was a year ago and I was just like gives me chills. It just feels like it was yesterday. Truly, like I think I was just watching some videos of the whole thing. Things that I was posting on my story. My parents were watching from the US and they were recording the whole thing and I get emotional.
I’m kind of getting emotional just talking about it right now cause it’s just a once in a lifetime experience and no matter what happens in the World Cup, I get to experience that. There is nothing like it and to experience that with other girls and that is a bond that we will forever cherish and we’ll forever have. So like I’m really grateful and like just so amazed that we were able to create history like that. But I’m personally really excited for the World Cup.
KG: In the World Cup you’re drawn with New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland in Group A. So Norway and Switzerland are sort of minor powerhouses really. And New Zealand’s a host nation. So how do you rate your chances?
SB: Just like any other, no matter who we drew it was going to be a tough match-up for everything. We’re quite literally, the underdogs. No one really expects anything from us. So like I said earlier, we’re just, we have our principles, and that’s what we’re going to stick to. Not really going in with fear. If anything, we really do have the advantage.
We don’t have the pressure of literally, pretty much all the teams, except for one, if you go off of rankings. We’re just going to go in it with like a clear mind and just need to do our best but compete and show that you know we’re a team, that’s not gonna let you like, roll us over and you know, give us a thrashing like that’s definitely the mindset I feel like all of us have. We don’t wanna be that team. We don’t want to be like unfortunately, kind of like a Thailand v US. Forget that score, it was double digits, but like that for me personally, it’s like I’m not allowing that to happen on my watch and just doing everything that I can.
We have Alen, we have our staff that I know is gonna prepare us and then we have to do our homework individually as well. So it’s just, treat it like any other game. It’s that truly like, yes, it’s the World Cup, but at the end of the day, it’s the same game that I’ve been playing since I was five, so.
KG: Exactly, exactly, so how come you moved to the Wanderers? How did that actually come about? Cause it’s kind of a bit of a weird thing to come here, being an American Filipino, playing in Japan and then you end up in Sydney with the Wanderers.
SB: Yeah, It was pretty random to be honest, and it’s funny because when I when I got here and I met my team mates, when I started talking like it kind of like chalked them. They’re like oh, you’re American like, because I’m coming from Japan but I’m on the Philippine National Team but they don’t know I’m American so it’s just so funny and like you just said it’s like people can’t pin me down. They’re like what in the world?
Yeah, It just kind of came about because the national team had already been in Australia for the camp. There were two friendlies against Papua New Guinea. I wasn’t there because it wasn’t between the FIFA window and my club didn’t release me so I was still playing. I still had matches in my league in my season going on, but the Wanderers were watching camp and the friendlies and they actually reached out to one of my team mates.
My other teammate was already off the team, kind of playing in Europe and she just was like, ‘Hey, here’s this opportunity’ and obviously, I’m close with a lot of the girls, but this one girl that kind of contacted me, we’ve been through very similar paths in our soccer careers, and so we’re very close and she kind of knew the struggles that I was going through. So she was like, there’s this opportunity. Do you want it? I’m already playing in a team. I can hand it off to you.
I was still contracted at the time when my Japanese team, but I was really going through a lot of stuff so I was just like you know what, let me take this risk. I don’t even know what’s gonna happen because once I ask to be released, it could go any direction. So once I got the handoff from my teammate, I kind of presented it to my club and I was just very honest. I was like, you know, kind of going through things mentally. So I just talked psychologically, physically to being here. I’ve already got a season with you guys. I’m already halfway through and I think it would just be best for me to be in a country where I could at least just speak English and communicate with people and like genuinely, just like make connections because I didn’t really have many friends out there so even like outside of soccer, it was quite a struggle, and I’m definitely a person who likes to connect with people. I like to make jokes and even simply not even being able to make people laugh.
KG: It was the language that was really isolating, basically?
SB: It was. I had translators during my time there, but my club was a smaller club so they didn’t have all the resources to have a translator 24/7 or even or even on the field all the time for training. So even during training when I would do drills and what not, like, I would be half a second behind because I still had it to understand what was going on and by the time I finally understood a drill, it’s like, alright, we’re into the next drill.
Still, like I said, a very great experience in Japan. I really do love the country. I love the culture but it just got to a point where I was like I need something else and it was just all kind of aligned perfectly.
And fortunately, my club was very understanding and just, you know, we agreed to mutually terminate my contract because I was contracted till June to finish the season with them. But when that was finalised, on the release, that’s when finally Wanderers was like alright, we’re getting you a plane ticket and this all really happened within like a week. In maybe eight days, yeah maybe eight days I had to pack up my apartment.
KG: So, and how you fitting in with the team now?
SB: Very well, I think it was a good integration. It didn’t really feel like I had to like, I don’t know, like learn all the ins and outs just because I was kind of familiar with the style of play. I’ve had Alen as a coach. A lot of the things that the coaches were saying and the girls were doing, I had kind of been familiar with on the soccer end and girls are just so nice and really friendly and welcoming and kind of getting me into the swing of things. So it was very quick for me to establish myself. And again being able to speak English and being able to just kind of conversate with people like it was just a breath of fresh air that I really had needed so it was really good coming in, right off the bat.
KG: So are you living by yourself or you’re sort of in a share house with some team mates, or what’s the story there?
SB: Yeah, I live with two of my teammates and I think we live in a, I think it’s called Granny Flat. Yes, it’s the house that’s shared with another side of the house, type of thing. But yeah, it’s two other teammates not too far from the facilities where we train.
KG: Okay, so who are you living with?
SB: The two goalkeepers, Jordan Bloomer (who has now returned to the USA), the other American and Teresa Morrissey, the other goalkeeper as well.
KG: OK, and so this is your first time living in Australia, so you’re settling in OK and you’re enjoying it? Have you noticed anything funny or odd about Australia or unusual culturally or otherwise, or food?
SB: Yeah, Someone else asked me this question. I think last time I answered about the language. I really like the slang in certain things that people say here. But one thing that’s really stuck out to me is that it’s acceptable to have no shoes, to go barefoot to some places and I was talking to my teammates, I’m like OK I need the consensus cause I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it happen and then I asked my teammates and half of them are like, no don’t do that, do not do that, and the other half is like, yeah, like I do it. I’ve done it so I’m like, OK this is kind of like, to each his own thing. It’s not like a full on, like the whole country supports it and I was like you know what, I’m down for whatever. So if you see me at the grocery store with no shoes on, I’ll do it once so that’s one thing.
KG: OK, so since you joined the Wanderers, they had a run of only losing one game out of six and are marching up the table after losing every game previously. Oh there was a draw actually with Phoenix, I think. So what do you put that down to?
SB: I think a lot of the contributions for, you know, the majority of the wins that we had so far and only one loss, is just the intensity that everyone brings to training. I feel like a lot of people bring out the competitiveness in each other. At least, I try to do that. I want to make, not only myself doing training better but I want to make everyone else cause this is a team sport.
If one person is doing well that doesn’t mean everyone else is, so like, you know if you’re doing the hard work and someone else isn’t, there’s no point. So I think everyone’s kind of just been uplifting each other during training. Making sure we’re giving our all, making sure we’re staying focused. You know, getting on each other, like appropriately, like when someone could you know, improve or do better, like we let each other know like hey, that you could have finished that. Or you could have gone harder than that tackle or your touch needs to be better.
That’s the one thing that I’ve really enjoyed with being here so far. I wasn’t necessarily getting that when I was in Japan. Constructive criticism, so yeah, and I think that’s good because it’s like, yes, you know that we want to be better during training, but when you hear it from your teammate. I know some people can, you know, take that the wrong way, but I think the way this team works is it’s, we know we want the best of it. It’s coming from a good place.
At least that’s how at least I want people to perceive it. And whenever, if I give someone like, hey, I could have been better. I try to back it up with, like all right next time, like that could be better. But you got the next one. Being hard on someone, but back it up with positivity type thing. Just making sure that the training has been competitive and raising the level at training. That’s where it starts and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful during games because the training level is already so high. We kind of bring that energy into the matches and that’s why we’ve been doing pretty well so far since I’ve been here.
KG: On a personal level, you’ve had quite a few chances in front of goal since joining, but you’ve only scored once. So are you happy with that?
SB: Obviously no. I think, for me, and when I think about OK, I’ve had a lot of opportunities, but I’ve only scored one. Why is that? And I feel like I, since being in Japan, I really hadn’t gotten a lot of game time and I’m still kind of getting into the swing of things of getting more game time in under my belt.
Yes, I play a lot with the Philippines national team, but it had been a while since I played in the last tournament, so I think honestly, I’m just kind of readjusted into being in front of goal. And like I haven’t had opportunities like that in a while and I think that’s why it feels kind of foreign and that’s why I haven’t been able to kind of finish those chances that have been getting.
I also feel like I’m a very energetic personality and sometimes it kind of seeps onto the field as well, but for me I think things that I can improve on it just being more calm in front of the goal and just taking that extra touch or taking that extra breath to just make sure I can finish that goal because, like you said, I’ve had multiple opportunities and very many of them have just been close range too and hasn’t been like it’s been from outside the 18-yard box, so I think that’s definitely more of a mental thing. Then, if anything, a technical aspect. Obviously, I need to work on just, you know, doing extra stuff, getting extra shots, but I think a lot of it is like. Slowing down and just taking their shots so that they go into the back of the net and just being calm, being calmer.
KG: What are your personal goals for the season with the Wanderers?
SB: I think personally, I would really like to make play-offs. Like I really would just because I know like you know you were saying the record that we had before I came in. I would really just like to. Like before the match that I had first played against Melbourne City, we had not won a game for 364 days which is like crazy. It’s really crazy to me because the first training that I had with the team was I was like and I look back. I’m like how was this team not won in 364 days so I’m like, I know there’s certain things that contributed to that, but I know it’s not talent. I know it’s not hard work. I know a lot of girls are very diligent and very good, so for me personally, I want that for not only myself, but like for all of us, because we deserve to go to the play-offs.
And you know, obviously, I do want to score more goals. At the end of day I think I that’s what a striker wants at the end of the day, but for me personally, I just want to be a better player than I was before, so if that means I am finishing more of the chances that I have in front of goal then I’m happy. I don’t necessarily want to put a number or put like I want to be top goal scorer like, I just want to make sure I’m improving and growing and people can see the growth.
I want people to see the first game that I played here against City and I want people to see the last one and I want to be like, Oh Sarina got better in that time and I just want people to reflect on like the time and the impact that I’ve had in this league and for people to be like oh, Sarina Bolden was an impact in this league and on the Wanderers so I know that’s like a weird goal and it’s not really a specific one, but that’s just kind of like I’m really big on growth and just being better because when I put like oh, I wanna win the World Cup, I wanna win the whole thing, it’s a big thing. It’s, I wanna win the league but I don’t want to focus on like the winning and the losing, I just want to finish on a big, better thought.
KG: Makes sense. So what are your personal goals this year with the Philippines team?
SB: Yeah, I wanna continue to just keep making history. With one tournament, the first time in our history, I would really like to win, even though I just said I don’t care about wins and losses. It’s just really exciting and you know, the year that we had was a lot and we did a lot and we had a lot of successes and we broke a lot of barriers. So I just want us to again raise that bar and do better than we did last year and continue to be breaking records and creating history and stuff like that and just being able to look back and just like I said, same answer, be better than we were before.
KG: Well, you know if Norway play like they did in the Euros you might be in with the chance against them because they just folded, anything can happen, it really can. Look at Morocco and the men’s World Cup. That was an incredible run. You know stuff happens so.
SB: I mean, that’s why soccer is so beautiful. Cause it’s truly unpredictable. I don’t think there is any sport like it. I feel like the dominant team or the stronger team, nine times out of ten, they’re gonna win. But in soccer. You never know. Like you said, Morocco and even Japan, Japan beating Germany beating Spain. I don’t think anyone would have bet on that. The people that did bet on that they got some big money that day.
KG: So you’ll be playing in New Zealand for your group stages. Are your parents coming over for that?
SB: Yep. They booked their tickets before I booked. I don’t know if I’m even going to be, you know, part of the final so they booked it. If I’m not there. But yeah, they’ll be there.
KG: Oh cool, oh that’s great. That’s great to know. Okay look that’s all my questions. This has actually been fantastic. I really enjoyed it so thank you for your time. Really appreciate it and good luck for the weekend.
SB: Thank you Kris. I really enjoyed this as well. Thank you. You’re very easy to talk to and I really appreciate it.