The CNMI Men’s National Team is all set for the EAFF E-1 Football Championships 2017 Round 1.
“We are ready,” Blue Ayuyus coach Kiyoshi Sekiguchi said in an interview with Saipan Tribune yesterday after attending the send-off ceremony for the team at Kanoa Resort.
Sekiguchi is bringing in 18 players to the East Asian Football Confederation-sanctioned tournament that will run from June 29 to July 4 at the Guam Football Association National Training Center in Dededo. The CNMI lineup is made up of goalies Johann Noetzel and Chris Aninzo, Kennedy Izuka, Lucas Knecht, Enrico Del Rosario, Joel Fruit, Jehn Joyner, Darin Kaizer, Michah Griffin, William Dunn, Hunter Jewell, Joe Miller, Peter Loken, and James Ermitanio, who were at the send-off ceremony. Completing the squad are Kirk Schuler, Nicolas Swaim, and Jonathan Takano, who are now in Guam waiting for the rest of the team, which will leave Saipan today. Completing the squad are assistant coach Jersh Angeles, goalkeeper coach Taketomo Suzuki, team manager Norman Del Rosario, and physiotherapist Pam Carhill.
Sekiguchi said the Blue Ayuyus are all set after going through two training camps and holding practice sessions on the island for months. The first camp was held from March 9 to 13 in San Diego, California with the 13 off-island players meeting for the first time after getting invites to join the CNMI training pool. Some of the off-island players then came to island late last month to be with other members of the pool and train before heading to the Philippines for the second and final training camp.
“The training camps were very helpful because our players were able to put into play what we have been practicing. It’s hard to get quality matches here for our players, so we’re happy that we’re able to have training matches in San Diego and in the Philippines,” Sekiguchi said.
The CNMI mentor added there’s nothing to worry about the health of the team after five players were brought to the hospital in the Philippines due to bacterial infection (stomach).
“They will be OK, I am not worried as they will recover in time for the games. We will be facing teams that are stronger than us and we will do our very best to give good results,” Sekiguchi said.
In the EAFF tournament, the Blue Ayuyus will be battling Chinese-Taipei, Macau, and Mongolia. The top finisher in Round 1 will advance to Round 2 competition, which will be held in November in Chinese-Taipei. The Finals is set for next year in Tokyo.
No less than Gov. Ralph Torres led the well wishers of both the CNMI men’s and women’s teams and he gave the players a fitting send-off gift—a pitch in Koblerville.
“The pitch will have its ground breaking in October,” Torres said.
“This is what you want and this is what you need. The football association and its president Mr. Jerry Tan never asked the Legislature or the Governor’s Office for any financial support to your program because he understood the economic challenges we went through in the past so with this pitch and the available government property, we hope at least we are able to help you,” Torres said.
Tan, who was also present at the send-off ceremony, thanked Torres and the CNMI government for their continued support to the Commonwealth’s football program.
“We are fortunate to enjoy the support of our government. Soccer is relatively new to the island compared to baseball, American football, and basketball, and having support from both the public and private sectors is very important in ensuring the growth of the sport,” Tan said.
The Northern Mariana Island Football Association president also thanked EAFF for giving CNMI the opportunity to compete in the region where majority of the best Asian teams can be found.