A self-described “aggressive ball winner”, Kiana Swift was expecting those match qualities to be among her main contributions to the Tongan national team.
What she found upon joining the team for their tilt at FIFA Women’s World Cup qualification is in the Pacific, those players are a dime a dozen.
“In Canada I’d say I’m quite an aggressive player and I’m a ball winner. But I found here, there’s like five others just like me in our team alone,” she said.
“I think the competitiveness, the aggressiveness and the willingness to go and win the ball was phenomenal throughout this tournament from each team.
“I think the biggest difference I noticed between Canada and Tonga is probably the touch, and just being confident on the soccer field.”
Swift has relished being among the foreign-based contingent reinforcing Tonga’s Mataliki, along with the Vaka twins, Laveni and Daviana, and Jazmine Loto’aniu, during the 2022 OFC Women’s Nations Cup in Fiji.
“It’s been amazing, I keep saying how grateful I am and that holds true. I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” the 22-year-old midfielder said.
“Being raised in Canada I’m obviously quite far from Tonga so coming to play with the team, learning the language and being around the girls, it’s meant the world to me and I’m just so grateful.”
Swift plays in the semi-professional League1 British Colombia for Victoria Highlanders and although she hasn’t been able to spend as much time in Fiji as she’d like, said being with the Mataliki is like being in Tonga with her cousins.
“I stayed in Tonga for a month, in the village with my cousins and that was a really eye-opening experience for me. It was so hard to leave because I just felt that everyone was brown there and I found my family and community as well.
“We were supposed to go back, but with Covid we haven’t been able to so I think this is as close to home as I get, and it has felt like home.
“I’ve been learning the language and being way more aware of my heritage helps ground me and connect me with my culture.”
Swift said learning Tongan hasn’t been as difficult as she initially thought it might be.
“All the girls keep teaching me the swear words! But it’s coming along, we were trying to learn the national anthem for the quarter final, and Jaz from Australia, she’s already speaking Tongan. She’s been with the team for a couple of months now, I’ve had three weeks and it’s coming along.
“I’m excited, I think this has kind of helped just start my passion to really reconnect with my heritage,” she said.
Swift started all three of Tonga’s games in Fiji, picking up the Player of the Match for her performance against the Cook Islands.
However, when picking a favourite match, she said by far it has to be the thrilling quarter-final with tournament favourites Papua New Guinea.
Tonga turned it up a notch in the encounter quickly taking a two-goal lead and putting Papua New Guinea firmly on the backfoot.
“When we went two goals up I was like, ‘holy!’ but I also know from every soccer game I’ve ever played, 2-0 is the most dangerous score.
“But just for us to finish in the final third was fantastic because we have had trouble with finishing in this tournament.”
The evening ended earlier than she would have liked, after picking up a knock and having to be replaced in the second-half, but Swift left everything out on the pitch.
“Even though I only made it to the 75th minute, I just trained so hard for my team and unfortunately it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I’m just so happy for the girls that we played beyond 90 minutes, and had some great penalty kicks.
“We also came back from being one goal down, it was an amazing game, and amazing experience. No regrets.”