Since arriving in Australia, Sarina Bolden has taken the A-League Women by storm.
Bolden was playing in Japan for Elfen Saitama, and in the second year of a two-year deal, she began to feel isolated and wanted a change.
“The opportunity with the Wanderers just fell into my lap,” Bolden said.
“So then it just came down to communicating with my Japanese club, ‘Hey, I’m not happy here so essentially can I go to another club?’
“I had a great time, I learnt a lot of things when I was there in Japan, but it just got to a point where I just wasn’t happy.”
“I am American born, so it was quite hard with the language barrier, making new friends, connecting with people. I’m a very outgoing person and stuff, that’s my personality. I wasn’t able to do that in Japan.”
The move to the Western Sydney Wanderers came along quickly, and Bolden arrived in Australia on Boxing Day in 2022.
“I’ve always heard about the W-League, the A-League, for a long time and I was always interested in playing in Australia, so it’s kind of awesome I got the opportunity to tick that off my achievement box and I love it.”
After a short stint at the Wanderers to end the 2022/23 A-League Women season, Bolden signed with the Illawarra Stingrays in the NPL NSW Women’s competition to maintain her fitness in the lead-up to the World Cup.
The decision to sign with the Stingrays came down to her partner, who lived in Wollongong.
“I just wanted to be closer to her. We were making the commute from Western Sydney to Wollongong, which is like an hour and a half drive.
“So I was kind of over that, and I still wanted to be on a team to prepare for the World Cup.”
Bolden would score five goals in her six games with the Stingrays, which included four goals in the one game against the Emerging Jets.
It was a match which featured some of her future teammates at the Newcastle Jets.
“I remember in the first week or two when I was training with the Jets, they’re like ‘oh yeah, you played with Stingrays right?’
“I was like, ‘Yeah I did’. They’re like ‘Oh, yep. We remember that game. You beat the heck out of us.’
“So many things have happened in the last two to three years I can’t put names to faces sometimes and things that I’ve done because it all just happened so quickly.
“I was like ‘wait, you guys were on that team?’ and they’re like ‘Yes. We remember you putting four goals past us’, and I was like so sorry.
“They definitely remembered that. I was like ‘wow, that’s crazy. Sorry about that.’”
Looking back on qualifying for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Bolden described the feeling as ‘surreal’, and noted that the qualifying plays ‘a little bit more significance than the actual World Cup at times.’
“Qualifying for it was just a whole rollercoaster, but even just like that game where we had to go into 120 plus minutes and then go into PK’s just to qualify for the World Cup.
“That whole thing was just on the edge of your seat experience and excitement but anxiety, nervousness but like you’re so close and one wrong thing and you know, you don’t qualify and it just… I think we did everything right in that moment to qualify.
“But it was up against a really tough team we see time and time again, Chinese Taipei and they definitely are a good team.
“But I think we’ve been developing and even these past Olympic qualifiers, we played them again. In the past, we would just lose or tie and we just recently beat them to qualify for the World Cup and this time we kind of solidified that by beating them.”
“But the World Cup qualifiers, that was crazy and scoring that PK to qualify, I think about that a lot and I actually have like videos from my parents.
“They were watching all the way across the world back in the US and they’re reactions and stuff like that. It just makes me emotional, so it’s crazy that even happened but it’s an amazing experience.”
Bolden’s name will forever be etched in Women’s World Cup history, as she scored the winning goal in the Philippines first ever victory at the tournament, a 1-0 win over New Zealand.
“Literally yesterday I was thinking about that, like wow, my name is in history,” Bolden said.
“Like, this team will always be in World Cup history. No matter what happens, we’re there.
“It means a lot, not only to us, but to the Philippines as a whole and all the people that have supported us and been on the journey, even before that two year investment, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, it just took a lot of work and it took a lot of sacrifice, a lot of learning and growing.”
Bolden said she is happy to be able to give that to a country who is so proud of their heritage, and that it is an amazing experience.
“I’ll walk down the street sometimes in the Philippines or maybe even back home and people will recognise me and that’s just crazy to me. That people know what we did, but it was a big thing and for them to acknowledge that, is really cool.
“So I think that’s always going to live in history, that’s always something that’s going to be if you’re a real fan or someone that follows women’s football or Philippines football, you’re going to remember that for the rest of your life and that’s amazing to be a part of.”
She also described being at the World Cup as a dream come true and something she always wanted to be part of as a kid.
“It’s high-stakes, you’re with the best, you’re playing against teams that have been there on multiple occasions that have a lot of experience, that know how to go about conducting themselves at a World Cup. It’s a totally different tournament than any other tournament I’ve been to. Mainly because all eyes are on you and it’s just World Cup craze.
“There’s no tournament like it really. For me, I’ve always loved the World Cup. I’ve loved nations coming together to compete, people rallying around their countries, people rallying around other countries they didn’t know they would support that they like the energy [of], they like what they bring to the table also.
“It’s just such a connecting tournament that so many people are involved in. For me, it’s just crazy to be a part of that.
“To win a game, we wanted to defy the odds and I don’t think many people thought we would even win a game, let alone even shutout [a team] but we did.”
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After the World Cup, the Philippines coach Alen Stajcic would depart, ending up in the A-League Men competition at Perth Glory.
He would be replaced by an A-League Women coach, Mark Torcaso from Western United, who led Western to a grand final in their inaugural season in the 2022/23 season.
Bolden described the change in coach as a difficult transition, something she told Torcaso before their first tournament with him in charge.
“Our first tournament with him I said “I still need time to transition’, and he’s like ‘You know what, that’s totally fine. I understand that.’
“’You’re with this team, you’re with this coach that did a lot for you.’
“Mark is a great guy, a great coach who’s very understanding and he’s like ‘I don’t expect you to flip the switch right away’, but as a national team, international soccer goes, you do have to flip that switch quite quickly because new coaches, new staff, they come in and you have to adjust.
“For me personally, it did take a bit of adjustment to understand what Mark wanted from us and to move past Staj and, not to forget what he taught. I could never forget what he taught what his and all his staff taught me, but to slowly move in a different direction. That was definitely hard for me in the beginning.”
As the new A-League Women season got closer, Bolden found herself without a contract after choosing not to re-sign with the Western Sydney Wanderers.
“I think multiple things came into it. But it just came down to wanting to develop as a player. I felt like I wasn’t able to do that at Wanderers.
“Great club, established, been around for a long time, great facilities, I’ve been there on multiple occasions with my national team, so definitely familiar, but I felt like I wanted to branch out and go see what the other teams in the A-League could provide.”
Five rounds of the competition passed before Bolden would find a club, with many people asking why she did not have a contract with a team.
“I was asking the same questions,” she said with a chuckle.
“There were a few teams that did reach out to me after the World Cup, but I think just based on my lifestyle and I love Australia so much and my preference for wanting to be in an English-speaking country.
“If I were to get anything, maybe the US, the UK, Australia, just any English speaking country, or maybe a foreign country where English isn’t number one but people do speak English there. So that was definitely my driving force and teams from that aspect just weren’t reaching out to me in that way.”
Bolden became proactive in trying to get a contract, reaching out to teams within the A-League Women, and having no luck.
With the league having started and still not having a team, she ‘almost lost hope’ before the Newcastle Jets and Gary van Egmond reached out.
“Gary reached out to me and was like ‘Are you still looking for a team?’ and I was like heck yeah and one thing led to another and we were able to get things sorted out.
“I was really grateful for that opportunity because at the end of the day, that’s what I wanted. I wanted to stay in the A-League and be able to get more time [here].
“I really like the A-League and I still feel like I need to develop and this is the perfect league for me to develop and get better and hopefully move on to higher achievements, higher leagues and get exposure to those type of leagues.
“I’m not done yet and I hope to continue to play for longer and do more damage.”
After signing with the Jets, Bolden would debut against Canberra only a few hours after the announcement of her signing, and would score a brace on debut.
“I think I set a big expectation right away whereas if I’m being honest, I kind of like to slide under the radar and have people underestimating me and not knowing what I’m capable of, but after the World Cup I don’t think I can do that anymore.
“People are like Sarina Bolden so then there’s already ‘this is a good player’ which now I’m embracing and also embracing my role, being that key player at Jets so it’s new. It’s kind of new to me and I take that responsibility and do the best I can and try to influence the team with my work ethic and try to lead in the best way that I can.
“I don’t necessarily like to have that captain’s band on my arm. I would rather not have that title but I do realise I am in the position where people do look up to me, people are looking for me to lead and to get that goal, make that game winning decision.
“It’s a new role for me but I’m embracing it. It’s different for me to be in that type of role but with the national team too, I also am a leader there so it’s no foreign. I know what it feels like to have that responsibility on your shoulders to be that figure that people look to and go to when you’re out there on the field.
“It’s a little bit of pressure but nothing I can’t handle.”
Bolden’s first season in the A-League Women saw the first year of a league-wide Pride Round, which was dubbed as a Pride Celebration.
Unfortunately Bolden did not get to participate as the Celebrations fell the weekend after a lengthy international break and the decision was made to rest her for the Wanderers fixture against Canberra in Canberra due to the travel back from Europe.
With a Pride Round set to return to the A-Leagues this season, Bolden said she would love to take part.
“I’d love to participate. Being a queer person, that’s cool to be represented in that way. I’ve been a part of a league where they’ve outwardly done that, which is really exciting.
“Canberra did a really good job doing that kind of stuff and I think Perth did a good job. Even their jerseys had rainbow colours and their numbers and stuff like that.
“It’s just things like that that’s really cool and we have Unite Round this week. It just brings people together of all walks of life.
“That’s what soccer’s all about and that’s really amazing. It’s very cool to be part of a league that cares about that and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Bolden uses both she/her and they/them pronouns. When asked, she said she did not consider herself to be non-binary, but gave a detailed explanation as to the use of she/they pronouns.
“I’m just kind of like a person that goes with the flow. I don’t really have a title but like I don’t consider myself non-binary but like for me, pronouns, I don’t mind when people call me she but I also don’t mind when people call me they.
“That’s just my stance on where I stand with gender and non-binary. I don’t necessarily identify as non-binary but I’m just kind of like Sarina. That’s where I stand with that. That’s my reasoning for why I put my pronouns out as she/they. That sits right with me.”
Bolden then continued, describing her appearance and how that incorporates into her view on things, as well as being misidentified.
“I know how I physically present to the world and stuff and sometimes people are confused with the way that I look. I have been misidentified as a ‘he’ and I get it.
“Sometimes people make mistakes and for me I’m a little bit more lenient on that.
“But I think when people do take the time, not even time, like a couple more seconds to realise like “oh, that’s… she” or even like if you don’t know “they”. I do appreciate that a little bit more. I’m also fine with people like make mistakes and I’ve had people go ‘Oh hey, what’s up man’ and then go ‘Hey, I’m sorry’.
“I appreciate when people own up to their mistake as well. I think that goes a little bit into like why I also identify as she/they because that’s kind of my personal experiences with being misidentified as well. I’m just this person.
“I kind of like to play with my masculine side at times, but I also have feminine qualities as well and I like the androgyny of it all. I kind of like the fact that people don’t know, like girl, boy. But that’s not for someone to go and take that as a negative thing.
“I kind of like that I have that power where people are like “I’m not sure.”
Bolden did have a powerful message to share, and also noted that she has made mistakes as well in this area, and that two simple words are all it takes when you make a mistake.
“But at the end of the day I just want people be kind and if you don’t know, that’s fine. Try your best or if you make a mistake, just own up for it. I’ve made mistakes too in this department and just say ‘I’m sorry.”
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