After the Portland Timbers play on the road at Inter Miami on May 28, most of the team will head off to enjoy a three-week break between games. But defender Bill Tuiloma has more work to do on the pitch with a chance to succeed on the grandest stage.
Tuiloma and the New Zealand men’s national team have a friendly against Peru scheduled for June 5 in Malaga, Spain, followed by an all-important FIFA World Cup intercontinental playoff match against Costa Rica on June 14 in Doha, Qatar. If the All Whites pull out a victory against Costa Rica, Tuiloma will make it to the World Cup for the first time in his career.
New Zealand has qualified for two World Cups so far: 1982 and 2010.
“I’m very excited,” Tuiloma said after Timbers training Tuesday. “One game that could change my life and get us to the World Cup. I feel like all the other players, teammates, staff, family and everyone else back in New Zealand are excited about this game. It’s one of two playoff games the whole world is going to be watching, and we’ve got to be prepared physically and mentally to put our best foot forward in this game.”
Tuiloma called potentially playing in the World Cup “a childhood dream.” Luckily, he’ll be leaving for Spain from the East Coast, but the travel time is still a challenge for all the athletes on the team joining New Zealand from their clubs around the globe.
“It’s tough,” Tuiloma said. “Traveling nine or 10 hours, it’s tough. We just have to control what we can control by drinking a lot of water, getting some rest, getting up on the plane and stretching. We need to make sure our bodies are right as soon as we touch down.”
Tuiloma has made 31 appearances for New Zealand’s senior team, scoring four goals. Two of Tuiloma’s goals came in a 5-0 win over Solomon Islands on March 30, an indication of his increased role on the senior team as they pursue a chance at the World Cup. He has four goals in 13 matches for the Timbers this season.
“It’s always an honor to represent the country,” Tuiloma said. “I’m always happy to put on the New Zealand shirt and represent my friends, my family, my team. Becoming one of the senior players, I’ve learned a lot from the likes of Woodsie (Chris Wood), Winston Reid, Michael Boxall, those were the guys I looked up to and learned from. Our culture as a team is very strong and keeping the bond together.”
How will Tuiloma celebrate if he scores against Costa Rica?
“I think the Griddy might come back if I score,” Tuiloma said with a laugh. “That would be pretty cool.”
— Ryan Clarke, firstname.lastname@example.org