The CNMI Men's National Team left Saipan yesterday to compete in the EAFF Asian Cup 2013 Preliminary Competition Round 1 at the Leo Palace in Guam.
The team is composed of Nick Swaim, Kirk Schuler, Steve McKagan, Bo Barry, Lucas Knecht, Raphael Zapanta, Brian Lee, Kenneth Domingo, Enrico Del Rosario, Gregzon Fontanilla, Eric Cooke, William Dunn, Dan Westphal, Peter Loken, Joe Miller, Arkie Reusora, Ruselle Zapanta, and Dan Stafford. Chikashi Suzuki will coach the squad, which also has Johann Noetzel as goalie coach and Norman Del Rosario and Jake Lee as manager and official, respectively.
First up for the Commonwealth strikers are rival and host team Guam with the two neighbors colliding at 4pm tomorrow.
Suzuki during the team dinner/send-off party last Friday at the Seaside Hall of the Kanoa Resort said Guam is beatable.
“I was able to watch Guam games when I went there a few weeks ago. They have better individual skills, but as for team tactics, I think we have the edge. Guam is beatable, our players just have to show a lot of heart and hard work to win,” Suzuki said.
“I don't want to lose to Guam,” he added.
Suzuki indeed wanted to break the CNMI's skid against its fiercest rival, who managed to beat the Commonwealth in two closely fought games in EAFF-sanctioned tournaments. In 1997, during the EAFF qualifier on Saipan, the CNMI bowed to Guam, 3-2. Then in 2009 in Guam, the host also eked out a tough 2-1 win over the CNMI.
In those twin losses, veteran players suited up for the CNMI with several of them in their late 30s and mid 40s. This year, a lot of fresher legs are playing in this week's tournament, including Lucas Knecht and Bo Barry. Knecht plays for the Georgia Southwestern State University, an NCAA Division II team, while Barry is a member of the varsity team of Massaponax High School, which is competing in leagues in Virginia.
“I know there is pressure on us, young players of the team. But, we are not feeling it, as we're really looking forward to play again for the CNMI. We are very excited and hopefully we get that elusive win against Guam,” said Knecth, who played on the 2009 team.
Barry, who suited up for the CNMI U14 Team that played in Beijing a few years ago, said its nice to play with his former MP United teammates and then team up with the veterans, whom he used to watch in the men's league.
“Now we are one team and we will help each other to bring good results for the CNMI,” Barry said.
McKagan, who is one of the veterans on the squad and is the team's captain said having a balance of young and old players is good for the CNMI.
“We, the old timers know how is it to play in a tough level competition, such as the EAFF qualifier, so we know what to expect from our opponents and we can tell that to the younger ones. We're here to guide them and provide leadership and stability on the team, while they (young ones) have to be aggressive and upbeat at the field,” McKagan said.
Loken, who is also among the veteran strikers on the squad, believes the right pieces for a much improved CNMI team are coming together.
“Everybody knows their respective roles on the team and that's important as we face Guam and Macau this week,” Loken said.
The CNMI will meet Macau on Friday at 4pm.