US-born Payne sisters make history for Nigeria, set to face USWNT together

Toni and Nicole Payne made history when they shared the pitch against Jamaica in June, becoming the first sisters to play at the same time for Nigeria. Payne family

When Nicole Payne came on in the second half of Nigeria's opening game of US Soccer's WNT Summer Series, against Jamaica, neither she nor her big sister Toni Payne had any idea they had just made history.

The pair became the first set of sisters to play together for the Nigeria Women's National Team, and only the second set of sisters, after Eberechi and Ugochi Opara, to represent the country.

The Opara sisters played for Nigeria, but on different occasions and were never on the pitch at the same time, unlike the Alabama-born Payne sisters, who also shared the pitch a game later against Portugal.

Sevilla striker Toni told ESPN: "It feels amazing to be the first sisters playing together on the same pitch for the Nigerian side.

"I didn't realize until I got to the hotel that Nicole and I had accomplished something great.

"It is very difficult to have two people from the house making the national team, especially the Nigerian national team because the program is so competitive."

And now both players, who represented the USA from U14 through U20 levels, are looking forward to facing their home country in the final game of Summer Series tournament on Wednesday, in Austin, Texas.

Toni, who made her Super Falcons debut in February, told ESPN: "The fact that we are both here together in our home country playing in a really big tournament is such a big deal for us.

"We are both really grateful to have had this opportunity and we are looking forward to the game, soaking up every second and every minute of it."

Making it even more special is that they will be doing so with their parents in the stands at the brand new Q2 Stadium, cheering them on like they did for the first two games.

Toni added: "We were so excited that both my mum and my dad were able to watch us play for the first time with the Nigerian national team, especially in person.

"Our dad is very opinionated on our football but the first thing he said to us when we called after the game was how proud of he was that we are even here, and just to continue working and praying and keep improving." 

It was an experience that almost did not happen. At least not so quickly. Nicole, a sophomore defender with West Virginia University, was not on the original 25-player roster named by coach Randy Waldrum for the tournament.

But following the withdrawals of Patricia George and Osinachi Ohale, combined with travel hitches for several other players, Waldrum, who did not even realise they were sisters, extended an invitation to the younger Payne.

"I was very excited to get the call-up, I'm very excited to be able to compete with the players that are here," Nicole, 20, said.

"I never believed I would get my call-up so soon, but again, it's a blessing to be here and be able to play with my sister."

The siblings, who were trained by their football-coaching dad, played together growing up, but their six-year age gap meant they'd never played together on a competitive team till now.

Toni, who is 26 and is a Duke University alum, said: "It is something that we have definitely thought about and dreamed about. Playing together didn't really become much of a reality until we had got a lot older.

"Nicole and I have a six-year difference so we have been at very different levels and periods in our football careers for a long time.

"But now we are a lot closer in football levels, so once she was able to get the call up here, it all became reality and we are both so very excited to be here together, representing Nigeria.

"Obviously making some sort of history is very encouraging. It feels great and we are is happy to be able to represent our parents and make our family proud and we hope that we can continue to do that."

The Super Falcons hopes of winning the tournament took a hit with the opening 1-0 loss to Jamaica. Then, Sunday's 3-3 draw with Portugal meant they now have no chance of winning the tournament, following the USA's two wins.

Nigeria have never beaten the USWNT. But with an American coach, and at least five players off the US collegiate conveyor belt, this could be a great chance for them to do so.

Star Barcelona forward Asisat Oshoala and veteran defender Onome Ebi joined the team on Saturday night and started against Portugal but were forced out in the second half with what appeared to be cramps. Team officials say they will be fit to play against the USWNT, and should most likely return to the starting lineup.

Sources told ESPN that Waldrum, who made four changes to his starting lineup against Portugal, could shake things up again on Wednesday, after two disjointed defensive performances.

This could well see Nicole, who came on just the past the hour for Ebi, making her first start for the Super Falcons.

As for Oyeleke Payne, the women's father, he told ESPN that all the coaching he did with them as kids, all the driving around, and monetary sacrifice, was worth it to see them make history.

"I am so proud of them and can't wait to see them play against the USA, which is also their country," he added.