When the Philippine women’s national football team made history in early 2022 by reaching the semifinals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup to qualify for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, there were only a handful of players in the Filipinas’ roster who were signed to international clubs.
The most high profile in the lineup was Katrina Guillou, an attacking midfielder for Piteå IF in the Damallsvenskan in Sweden, largely considered one of the top 10 women’s pro leagues in the world. The only other national team member playing in Europe that time was midfielder Jessica Miclat, who was part of Aris Limassol in the Cyprus First Division.
The national team’s 1-2 scoring punch, Sarina Bolden and Quinley Quezada, were both cutting their teeth in the newly formed, first fully professional women’s soccer league in Japan, the WE League.
The team has progressed much since then.
The Filipinas copped a bronze in the Vietnam SEA Games and won the country’s first ever AFF Women’s Championship. They stood their ground against some top caliber teams from various parts of the globe in the regular friendlies played during FIFA windows.
Although their campaign in the recent Pinatar Cup left much to be desired, it does not diminish how far the team has come since Alen Stajcic took over the coaching reins just less than a year and a half ago.
As soon as the Philippines earned a spot in the 2023 FIFA World Cup, Stajcic already emphasized the importance of seeing more members of the PWNFT playing competitive football the whole year round. This, however, would only be possible if players were attached to ballclubs.
Even as Stajcic and his coaching staff designed individual training programs and pitched camps every FIFA window, they knew these would not be the ideal conditions in forming a World Cup-ready squad. The conditioning and match fitness level of players would benefit greatly from being able to regularly play games for commercial clubs.
Four months before the World Cup begins in New Zealand, the Philippines has reached a point in its growth trajectory where it now has the luxury of forming a lineup that could be composed mostly of players from clubs in different parts of the world.
Most of these players managed to land club contracts after their stints with the national team. It is therefore safe to assume that exposure with the Filipinas in the international stage magnified their stock and got them on the radar of scouts.
Guillou is no longer the only Filipina playing in Sweden, a country which is third in the FIFA women’s world ranking. After a successful 12-game stint as a starter for powerhouse ŽFK Spartak Subotica in the Serbian Women’s Super League, Jessica Cowart transferred to the Damallsvenskan to play for IFK Kalmar. Miclat plays in the Elitettan, the second highest division of Swedish women’s football, for Eskilstuna United DFF.
Norway is 13th in the women’s world ranking and also has a vibrant women’s football domestic scene. Two Filipinas are fixtures in the Norwegian leagues. Sara Eggesvik has rejoined her old club, KIL/Hemne, in Norway’s second highest division. Eggesvik was with KIL/Hemne from 2020 to 2022. Eggesvik has also played in England’s second highest division, the Women’s Championship, for Charlton Athletic, from 2019 to 2020. Midfielder Meryll Serrano has been a pro since she was 14 years old when she made her debut in 2012 for Haugar in Norway’s second division. Beginning 2014, Serrano has played for various clubs in the Toppserien, the top level of women’s football in Norway. Serrano has won club titles with Avaldsnes and LSK Kvinner. After spending 2020 to 2022 with Arna-Bjørnar, she will be moving to the Stabæk Fotball Kvinner this season.
Nine years since she last appeared in the Besta deild kvenna, the top-tier league in Iceland, Tahnai Annis will look to restart her pro career with another stint with Þór/KA. She won the lceland league title with Þór/KA in 2012 and was named the club MVP the following year. Joining her in the Þór/KA lineup this season will be Filipinas center back Dominique Randle, who will be making her professional club debut.
Quezada has also packed her bags to Europe after a season with the JEF United Chiba Ladies in the WE League. She is part of the Red Star Belgrade in the Serbian Women’s Super League.
Perhaps one of the most significant signings is that of defender Reina Bonta, who becomes possibly the first player from the Philippines to play professional football in Brazil. Bonta, a product of the Yale Bulldogs, will be joining the Santos Futebol Clube in the Campeonato Brasileiro de Futebol Feminino and the Campeonato Paulista de Futebol Feminino.
But it is in the Australian football scene where the Filipinas have made quite a huge splash. There could be as many as 10 Filipinas who will be wearing Australian club jerseys in 2023.
Three years after her last pro stint in Sweden, Jaclyn Sawicki inked a contract with Western United last August. She was immediately appointed team captain of the club.
A few months after, star striker Bolden also transitioned Down Under from Chifure AS Elfen Saitama in Japan. Since December, Bolden has been a regular starter for the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Goalkeeper Kiara Fontanilla and midfielder Kaya Hawkinson are set to join the Central Coast Mariners. The Mariners will be making a comeback in the A-League Women for the 2023-2024 season.
If reports are true that Sawicki’s Western United teammate, defender Angela Beard, will finally be seeing action for the PWNFT, then that makes five Filipinas playing in Australia’s premier women’s division.
Four other Filipinas will be playing in Australia’s second division.
The Sydney, New South Wales-based Blacktown Spartans Football Club will be featuring Eva Madarang, 20-year-old Carleigh Frilles, and 18-year-old Chantelle Maniti, while former De La Salle Zobel player Anicka Castañeda will be lined up with the Mount Druitt Town Rangers.
Nineteen-year-old Malea Cesar will be showcasing her defensive prowess for the semi-pro National Premier Leagues NSW side Blacktown City Football Club.
From just four national team members playing for international clubs a little over a year ago, the PWNFT will now have 19 players attached to commercial clubs in Europe, South America, and Australia.
This certainly bodes well for Stajcic and his coaching staff as they plot their final preparations for the Philippines’ maiden appearance in the Women’s World Cup. Not only has the national team talent pool been strengthened and deepened, but Stajcic will also be reassured that his players will continue to upgrade their skills and conditioning levels as they compete regularly in tough international leagues against top-caliber opposition. – Rappler.com