A promising CNMI Women's National Team will be playing in the EAFF Asian Cup 2013 Preliminary Competition Round 1 at the Leo Palace in Guam this week.
“I watched the CNMI and Guam game in the EAFF tournament in Taiwan in 2009. The CNMI lost, 1-5, but I think that will not happen again,” said Chelsea FC Soccer School (Hong Kong) technical director Luam Khen Koo, who is one of the coaches helping out the CNMI strikers in their preparation for the EAFF competition.
“This is a much improved team and I am confident it could play well against Guam this time,” said Koo during the team dinner/send-off party for members of the CNMI Men's and Women's Nationals last Friday at the Seaside Hall of the Kanoa Resort.
Team captain Megan Herber and Natalie Hill could not help but agree with Koo's observation that the Commonwealth's female strikers are no longer pushovers.
“Our team shows a lot of promise with many U19 players on the squad. They are solid soccer players and though they are young, each of them has leadership qualities that will help carry the team,” said Herber, who will be playing for the CNMI for the first time, but is a veteran and reliable striker of the women's league.
Hill is a returnee, having donned the colors of the Commonwealth in the East Asian Football Federation Women's Football Championship 2010 Semifinals Competition in Taiwan in 2009.
“Compared to our 2009 squad, this team is faster and better. Our collective skills are great,” said Hill.
Katie Peters and Carrie Schuler, who also played in Taiwan, liked what they saw on the team when they returned to the island a few weeks ago to join the squad.
“The girls move fast both on offense and defense. It' s nice to see these so many young girls on the team, as I know if I could not come back in the future and join the team, there will be a lot of players willing to step up,” Peters said.
Schuler, who scored the CNMI's first ever goal (against Guam) in the EAFF tournament, said the young players give the team more depth and power.
“I am confident we can match up with Guam and scoring will be better this time,” Schuler said
Melody Johnson is among the young guns on the team, but is no stranger to regional competitions having represented the CNMI in tennis tournaments in Fiji and New Zealand. She said the pressure to deliver good results in the EAFF tournament falls on their shoulder and this will challenge them to go all out in the competition.
“It's big task, as people kept saying we have a young and better team this year. We trained hard for the tournament and I hope the dedication and hard work we put into during our training session pay off this week,” Johnson said.
Johnson and company, who left Saipan for Guam yesterday, trained for over six months for almost every day. They practiced in the morning and afternoon every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, while Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday sessions were done only in the evening.
“Training includes fitness test. We ran a lot, we ran from Oleai to Garapan,” Johnson said.
The tough training almost made the young girls cry, Koo joked. However, Mikky Vargas believed the punishing practices will make them more ready against Guam and Hong Kong this week.
“They (coaches) made us work extra hard on defense and that's okay because we need to be prepared against Hong Kong and Guam,” Vargas said.
Meanwhile, Northern Marianas Amateur Sports Association president Michael White and Northern Mariana Islands Football Association president Jerry Tan were among the teams' well-wishers last Friday.
White said it's always good to see the CNMI represented in off-island and international competitions, while Tan made special mention of returning players who spent their own time and resources to be with their respective teams. The NMIFA head also thanked the Chelsea coaches for their assistance with the women's squad and the Japan Football Association for bringing men's coach Chikashi Suzuki to Saipan.