After flying him in a week ago under the radar, the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association introduced Jeff “Ziggy” Korytoski to the public as the first coach of the CNMI National Men’s and Women’s teams on Monday night during a welcome dinner at the Fiesta Resort & Spa.
Top ranking officials from the East Asian Football Federation were present along with NMIFA board members as Men’s League coordinator Vince Stravino unveiled coach Korytoski to the media.
“This is a real moment of celebration for the football association,” said Stravino.
Korytoski is currently an assistant coach at Wright State (Ohio) University, holds a Class B license with the United States Soccer Federation, and led the Penn State University Women’s Club team to the 2001 National championship.
Now the no-nonsense Korytoski is dedicating his life’s work to the CNMI by guiding its first national team to a home-and-home series with Guam next month. It won’t be easy, but the coach has been on island working with some of the players for the past week and Stravino said that he is excited to see what the coach can do.
“It’s a big task and the excitement that the players have demonstrated by coming out and working very, very hard and becoming very, very uncomfortable is motivating. It’s just wonderful to have a coach on island that, as Brenda [Schultz] said, can organize efforts. A lot of people are working hard and but he’s able to direct the efforts into hopefully meaningful results and play,” he said.
Korytoski plans to give his all for the CNMI and for both teams and said that one of his upcoming goals is to learn the CNMI national anthem in time for the Commonwealth’s first international match against Guam.
“You’ve got my 100-percent commitment and I’m very glad to be here—more than the soccer side, just getting involved in the culture and the people. Everybody’s been great so far and I’m looking forward to the experience. I just hope I can live up to what the federation is looking for,” he said.
After working with the men’s team for a week, Korytoski said that he likes what he’s seen and his goals for the sport locally transcend the hometown pitch.
“It’s been great. Everyone seems to be really motivated about it and in the next couple of weeks we’ll see who’s really in it and who just wants to be there. Hopefully we can keep as many people involved not only on the squad but in the community and reach out with something that the entire country is going to be proud of,” he said.
Things are moving quickly for the CNMI soccer program. Little more than a year and a half ago NMIFA rose from the ashes of the failed Commonwealth Youth Soccer Organization. Now there are several hundred men, women, and youth players on Saipan alone.
The development of the men’s league came even quicker as Stravino explained that the inaugural season was in its infancy when NMIFA was approached about fielding a team to compete on the international stage.
“When this came about late December and early January it was a big task for our federation because we only had a men’s league for about a week when we heard about the news. We tried to get organized and make the best representation we could on island. What we attempted to do was locate a coach who was optimistic enough, knowledgeable enough, and willing to put their life on hold for a couple of months and help us,” he said.
What NMIFA found was an overwhelming response from coaches across the United States. Organizers ultimately selected Korytoski, but the coach needed a couple of days to sort things out before he made his decision to fly to the Marianas.
“I thought about it and contemplated it for a couple of days and [realized] what a great opportunity it would be to get involved. I’ve been playing and coaching for my whole life and the opportunity to get involved in the international game was something that was too good to pass up. There’s not too many national teams that are starting up right now—it’s getting to that point. I think what these players are about to do is so much bigger than me or you or anyone else. This is something very special and I’m just honored to be a part of it,” he said.
With the CNMI program going from nothing to national in a matter of weeks, Korytoski said that there is plenty of work to do. The coach said that the key lies in teaching the basics and laying a solid foundation by educating folks about the game.
“It’s a long process. It’s not something that’s going to start overnight. Anybody thinking we’re going to go to Guam and come out of there on top 3-0, well, more power to them, but realistically it’s something that we’re going to have to build up toward. Getting everybody to buy in to what we’re trying to do is the first step,” he said.
Women’s League coordinator Brenda Schultz was present at the dinner and expressed her excitement and optimism for the upcoming matches as well as having a coach to guide the team.
“All the women are really looking forward to the opportunity to grow and learn and develop as players. Some of the women have never played before—it’s a new sport for them. Some of the women who have played before come from all different backgrounds and styles so we’re really looking forward to having someone put all of the pieces together for us and help us work as a unit instead of individuals on the field,” she said.
Korytoski will have his work cut out for him by coaching both squads and cutting down the rosters, but it’s a challenge he gladly accepts.
“I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I think that the women are very excited about it. I had the chance to go out there and watch them against Guam and for their first time playing 11 aside I was very impressed so I’m looking forward to the next six weeks,” he said.