19 Oct Philippine national soccer player Hali Long lives in Springfield, IL
The most notable soccer player who calls Springfield home is largely unknown locally.
She wasn’t born here, she never played here, and she doesn’t coach here.
Hali Moriah Candido Long is a center back on the Philippine women’s national soccer team can be found working at the Starbucks on Monroe Street. Long has played for the Philippine women’s soccer team since 2016.
Born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, she graduated from Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, Missouri, in 2013 then played soccer at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She first attended a tryout for the Filipino national women’s soccer team in California in 2013 — a year after she tore an ACL. That tryout was more of a way to measure herself against other top-caliber players. In 2016, she tried out again and was invited to join the national team.
She came to Springfield in December 2019 to stay with her maternal aunt, Janette Candido, for an extended Christmas holiday. The start of the COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from returning to the Philippines and then a major leg surgery that May lengthened her stay.
During Long’s college offseason, she was playing for the national team. The wear and tear took its toll on her body.
“It just became chronic all the time; I developed osteoarthritis and a bunch of other stuff and did a lot of wear and tear on my knee, never giving myself a break,” Long said.
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Springfield became Long’s home during the recovery from a distal femoral osteotomy, a procedure she described as fixing the alignment of her leg.
“They took a wedge out of the distal edge of my femur and set it with a 6-inch plate and eight screws in my leg to straighten me back out, along with fixing my meniscus,” Long said.
Returning to competition
Long, 26, knew the surgery could potentially end her playing career. But even if she was physically able to play, she wasn’t sure if she’d be at the same level as before.
“I was going to try to get back to play,” Long said. “I definitely had to do one tournament, one campaign after this surgery and with COVID, I got a lot of time to recover.
“If my body full-on rejects the training and can’t handle that level of play, then I know what I need to do with my life but if it can (handle it), then I’m going to keep playing because I’ve been given a new leg, essentially.”
Long had a setback during her recovery and didn’t get to fully run until April of this year. Three months later, she had to attend tryouts for the national team once again before the Women’s Asian Cup tournament as the Philippines tries to earn a spot in the Women’s World Cup for the first time. In 2018, the Philippines finished sixth in the Women’s Asian Cup, one spot from earning a place in the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Despite Long’s veteran status, with the long layoff due to COVID-19, she was told everyone had to tryout again.
“I was really nervous because I didn’t know if I was ready, I didn’t know if I was ready for full contact,” Long said. “A tryout isn’t just contact; you go hard, you show yourself and I knew there would be younger girls coming out, either in college or fresh out of college, knowing I’m there trying out too, knowing I’ve been on this team for five years (and those players’ mindsets would be), ‘I have nothing to lose, she has her whole spot to lose.’
Between the surgery and the tryouts, she played just one match with the Women’s Premier Soccer League in July.
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“I felt my lungs breaking more than anything and I was like, ‘I can do it,’” Long remembered. “My body felt fine and the fact it was my lungs that were struggling first was a good sign. I felt I could stop putting so much pressure on myself for this tryout.”
Not only did Long make the team, but she was named co-captain.
In September, the Filipino team traveled to Uzbekistan and beat Nepal and Hong Kong, both by 2-1 scores, in the qualifying round. The Philippines won Group F to advance to the final tournament of 12 teams with a spot in the 2022 Women’s World Cup on the line.
“But the second round is where you see teams like Japan, China, Australia, Vietnam and Thailand — those are the ones who have already qualified who didn’t have to play in the first round,” Long said. “If we make it, top five, we go to the World Cup.
“The last time we missed it in the game against Thailand. We lost to Thailand and they got to go to the World Cup instead of us but it was OK because USA beat Thailand 13-0 and I’m OK with that because that would’ve hurt my soul.”
Traveling for soccer
Long visited the Philippines once before her international soccer career, when she was 13. Seven years later, she went back with the national team. Raised by a Filipino mother, she wasn’t surprised by any of that country’s customs or cultures. But she was a little taken aback by the standards for the national team accommodations.
“When you hear ‘national team,’ it sounds so glorified, and I guess set my expectations a little too high,” Long said. “When I went there, I wasn’t culture-shocked by the country itself, I was culture-shocked by the women’s team. I think I glorified it too much in my head. It was a big wake-up call about the lack of resources we had and funding.”
Long said sports in the Philippines consists of three, mainly: “There are the three Bs: boxing, basketball and beauty pageants,” she said.
But she said she is grateful for the opportunities international soccer has provided her. She’s visited more than 20 countries because of it. She moved to Manila in the Philippines for a while, and she went through the process of obtaining her dual citizenship with the Philippines.
This entire experience has made Long feel more strongly connected to that side of her heritage.
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“It’s kind of full circle. I’m a dual citizen and that was kind of my physical stamp of, ‘I am Filipino,” Long said. “It’s not that I’m not claiming my dad’s side — the half-Caucasian that I am — but it was how I was raised, a way heavier Filipino influence. I’m really proud of being Filipino.”
Long has 11 goals in international competition, including three in a win over Tajikistan in 2017. Long, a center back, said she’s only allowed to attack the goal on corner kicks and free kicks due to her 5-foot-7 height, which she said makes her one of the tallest players on the field.
Long doesn’t know how long she will play the sport, but she knows she would like to continue into her 30s. Every year spent continuing her soccer career is another year she’s delaying the inevitable, she said. And that’s just fine with her.
“I don’t know my life without football, without soccer,” Long said. “I’ve played it since I was little, it got me through college and then I started playing (internationally) in college so I had a nice overlap of playing so after college, instead of going to grad school, I (was) going to keep playing.
“In my mind, I was just going to take a gap year and then go to grad school but I was full-on denial about what I was going to do with the rest of my life because I was going to avoid adulthood as long as I could.”
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Long graduated from Arkansas-Little Rock with a degree in health science. Her original career aim was physical therapy (“I’ve been through enough of it and my mom’s a physical therapist”) but not she’s unsure, though she adds, “School is still on my mind.”
But that’s still on the back burner.
“I think that’s the addicting part of it,” Long said. “The stamps (in the passport) are stamps, but I get to do it in multiple places with the people I’m closest with and have the closest bond with in all these places.
“It would be cool to see myself playing into my 30s. You see people in the U.S. do it, and I think it’s with proper nutrition and training and dedication. I need to learn myself and adapt my body as I get older.”
Contact Ryan Mahan: 857-246-9756, email@example.com, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.
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