“For a young player like me, it’s amazing to be part of such historic moment,” said U18 player Joel Fruit last Friday during a dinner Northern Mariana Islands Football Association held at Nami Bar in honor of the Blue Ayuyus’ 2-1 victory over Macau in the EAFF-organized and FIFA-sanctioned competition.
“The win gave us younger players a lot of confidence because we are a non-FIFA ranked team that beat a FIFA-ranked squad. The victory means we are on the right track, we are doing the right things, and we need to continue that and push ourselves harder to get to the level of the other teams we will be facing in the future,” Fruit added.
Jireh Yobech, another youth member of the squad, said the victory brought back memories of the CNMI U14 National Team that gave the Commonwealth its first EAFF win—incidentally against Macau, too, several years ago.
“Only this time, the magnitude of the win is tenfold,” Yobech said.
Wes Bogdan, an official of the men’s committee, also had a trip down memory lane after learning about the CNMI’s historic win.
“I remembered playing for the first CNMI National Team that battled Guam. We were a bunch of not so young guys trying to give the CNMI a respectable result. Now the national team has a lot of young players and that’s something that NMIFA has been working for in the last nine years. CNMI football has come a long way as far as getting young players into the program and developing their skills are concerned,” said Bogdan, who wore the jersey he used in the 2005 game against Guam at the dinner party.
Blue Ayuyus goalie and NMIFA technical director Johann Noetzel considered the victory as a way of planting the “seeds of opportunities” for CNMI football.
‘We’ve established a good base and now we have to continue working hard to play better and keep reaping positive results. Now that Coach Seki (Kiyoshi Sekigushi) is here on a full time basis, we can now give the men’s team and its program a year-round attention,” said Noetzel.
“We have to continue moving forward, play as much as football as possible. Learn about the game more not only by watching on screen, but mostly by playing consistently, having the ball on our foot every time,” added Noetzel, who thanked Sekiguchi for joining the squad even for such short notice.
Sekiguchi joined the Blue Ayuyus’ training sessions for the EAFF competition less than two weeks before the team headed to Guam. He supervised practices with the help of the coaches from Chelsea Soccer School (Hong Kong) and despite dropping their opening game to Mongolia, 0-4, the veteran mentor did not lose faith with his players.
“I knew they can do it. They just have to show a lot of fighting spirit and that’s what they did against Macau,” said Sekiguchi.
Noetzel seconded Sekigushi, saying the team’s desire to win was there, as players did everything they could to ensure they will walk away from the game with points to their credit.
“Our opponents were technically and tactically better and more experienced that we are, but you guys went all out there. The belief was there, not only from the players, but from all our supporters, the NMIFA officials and staffs, executives, sponsors, TSL Foundation, JFA, Chelsea Hong Kong. They believe we know how to win a game,” Noetzel said.