If spectators were charged for tickets to watch the 2018 Marianas Cup last Sunday, every penny they paid for was definitely worth it, as the CNMI and Guam gave them a show.
“The level of play in both the women’s U19 and men’s U17 games was phenomenal,” said Superior Court Associate Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio, who was among the horde of football fans that were kept on the edge of their seats as they witnessed back-to-back thrilling games between the CNMI and Guam’s national squads at the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville.
The CNMI Women’s U19 National Team escaped with a 3-2 victory over Guam, holding its ground against the visitors’ rally in the second half. In the U17 division match, Guam forced a standoff in regulation, 4-4, after a game-saving goal from Micah Hennegan and then prevailed in the shootout, 5-3.
No official count of spectators was recorded, but the 529-seater bleacher was packed and loud cheers from its occupants echoed throughout the facility. Other spectators were also scattered around the main pitch, rising from their seats to ease the tension they felt during the games, beating the drums to egg the home squads, and exchanging high-fives in delight each time the CNMI scored.
“I’ve been to several MLS games in the states and even watched an international tournament a couple summers ago. I loved the energy and crowd in those matches, but watching our children play on such a beautiful pitch with such a huge crowd was something else. It was better than watching a pro match. I loved the roar of the entire community when a goal was scored. There’s more excitement watching people you know play, especially when you know the sacrifices they’ve made training and improving their skills,” Kim-Tenorio said.
“Football in the CNMI has developed quickly over a short period of time. I believe we are now in our 13th year of football in the CNMI. The players who represented the CNMI yesterday are the ones who started with NMIFA since its inception. They are a true measurement of the development and success of football in our islands. It’s truly prideful to see the skill level of our national teams,” she added.
Charlie Rivera, who is more of a basketball fan than soccer, was glad to see the pair of matches and lauded the players’ heart.
“You can see the pride they have playing for the CNMI and in front of the home crowd. Their heart was really into the game, lots of emotions after each play. The women’s team has small players, but they are fast and aggressive. We, spectators really had a good time watching two great games,” said Rivera, who was among the fans seated outside the fence of the main pitch.
Arlene Baguino and her son JM were at the bleachers and it was their first time together to watch a soccer game.
“It was a great experience for us, especially every time the people will react together when the CNMI scored,” she said.
Guam coach Karl Dodd said the men’s U17 game was one for the fans.
“I thought the spirit of the game was excellent, nobody stopped playing until the end, which is great to see. It was definitely one for the fans. Everybody would have enjoyed it, except our coaching staff, as we did make it hard for us. I congratulate the CNMI for this very good game and for hosting us,” Dodd said.
At the conclusion of the intense matches, East Asian Football Federation president and Korea Football Association head Chung Mong-gyu said significant improvement in CNMI football will continue.
“Before there was a big gap between CNMI and Guam and today I was impressed with the results of the games. The men’s ended in a tie and had to go through a shootout, while the women’s division was won by the CNMI by a point. The CNMI has a lot of potential to improve and I wish them good luck,” Chung said.