Thirteen off-island players completed a training camp in California and expressed their commitment to the CNMI Men’s National Team.
“The camp was done successfully. I am happy to know our players level and found some new talented young players,” said CNMI coach and Northern Mariana Islands Football Association technical director Kiyoshi Sekiguchi, who facilitated the March 9 to 13 training camp with the help of assistant coach Taketomo Suzuki.
Former Blue Ayuyus Nick Swaim, Kirk Schuler, Johann Noetzel, Lucas Knecht, Michael “Bo” Barry, Jehn Joyner, Jonathan Takano, Ethan Dickinson, and Enrico Del Rosario attended the camp along with former Saipan youth players Mickey Coleman, Hunter Jewell, and Michah Griffin, and men’s league standout Darin Kaizer.
Coleman and Griffin are both honored to get a chance to play for the Commonwealth since they learned to play the sport on Saipan about a decade ago.
“As soon as I heard I was invited to the camp, I was excited and when I officially got the invite I was overjoyed. It has been a dream of mine to play for the island ever since I was a 10-year-old boy watching my mother (Elisa Long) train and play for the very first CNMI Women’s National Team,” said Griffin, who is a member of the varsity men’s soccer team at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
“Playing for the CNMI is extremely important for me. I want badly to contribute as much as I can to the growth and success of this national team in this summer’s upcoming fixtures and beyond. I am honored to be a part of the Blue Ayuyus and am looking ahead to this summer with the positive attitude and determined heart,” he added.
Griffin and the rest of the off-island players who joined the camp were impressed with the progress of CNMI football and influx of young players to the national pool.
“Size and speed were the biggest things I saw. Last time I saw some of these guys we were in fifth grade. It was crazy to see some of the kids I played soccer with in elementary school be taller than me and play hard. Everyone had significantly developed their touch as well as play style. It was interesting to observe them and play with everyone,” said the Colorado-based Coleman, who played with Joyner, Del Rosario, Barry, Dickinson, and Butcher in youth leagues on Saipan.
Noetzel, who was able to participate in the camp as his pro team in the Philippines is on break, was excited to see a good number of players to choose from and was happy that NMIFA managed to arrange an off-island training camp for the first time and worked on two friendly matches
“The training matches were a major component of the camp, allowing the coaches to evaluate current status and level of the players. It also gives them the freedom to explore other options and formations without dire consequences as would be the case if we were only able to come together at the time of international competitions,” the former Blue Ayuyus goalie said.
“The biggest improvement seen is the size of the player pool. The addition of some new players with high-level experience will raise the level of the team and provide greater competition for individual roster spots within the pool of players,” he added.
Noetzel and company played against Carlsbad Elite and Internationale’ last week and split the two matches. They lost to Carlsbad Elite, 1-2, with Takano scoring the team’s lone goal. Jewell, Joyner, and Swaim then had one goal apiece in their 3-2 victory over Internationale’.
“The first match unfortunately we lost but to be fair it was the first time most of us had come together on the same side of the field. The opposition was quality and our effort was not lax. The second match was much better. We won. We had time to come together and had a cohesive philosophy of play. It was a great note to end on and something I’m hoping we can build upon through the summer. As this was the first time I had seen a majority of guys play. I was impressed. Ball movement was fair and communication was there. We have solid players and as I said earlier, the future is bright. I don’t expect any regression in our efforts this summer,” said Knecht, who is set for another tour of duty with the Blue Ayuyus.
“Any time I have the opportunity to wear the NMI colors, I feel that it is my duty to perform as best as possible. I believe anyone else named to the team should feel the same. I’m always ready for the opportunity and always trying to improve our eventual result. Hopefully, this summer we will make it to the second round and really show the football world what we can do. Nothing but positivity and hard work will make that happen,” he added.
Del Rosario couldn’t help but agree to his teammates’ observations, saying it’s every player’s dream to play for the national squad and train under a good coach and his former teammates.
“The honor of representing the island and the national team in the sport you love is something that you never really turn down. It’s a unique experience,” Del Rosario said.
“It was great seeing and playing with players I haven’t seen in a long time, especially, under coach Seki’s team philosophy and tactics,” said Del Rosario, who vows to polish his skills so that he will be ready when he gets another chance to suit up for the Blue Ayuyus.
Sekiguchi will name the final roster for the Blue Ayuyus in June after another training camp in the Philippines. Players who will make the grade will represent the CNMI to the East Asian Football Federation East Asian Cup 2016 Preliminary Round 1. More than 20 players based on Saipan are also gunning for slots on the Blue Ayuyus lineup and training regularly under assistant coach Jersh Angeles.