NMI soccer gets noticed

Posted on Aug 17 2020


In this 2018 file photo, the CNMI Men’s National Team’s John Michael Rojas steals the ball from a Macau player during their game in the EAFF E-1 Football Championships 2019 Round 1 at the Mongolian Football Federation Stadium in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. (Contributed Photo)

The CNMI’s may be ineligible to compete in the World Cup qualifying for now, but its continued efforts in developing a strong and sustainable national team are not left unnoticed.

In a story from a football website, writer Mark Henderson made special mention of the Commonwealth’s national team even though it’s not included on the squad that are preparing for the 2022 World Cup qualifying matches, which have been postponed to next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Henderson of From The Tofu Bowl—a website dedicate to bringing original stories and opinion about East Asian football—discussed the East Asian Football Federation-member countries’ bid to earn tickets to the 2022 World Cup that will be held in Qatar. China, Guam, Chinese-Taipei, Japan, North and South Korea, Mongolia, Hong Kong, and Macau were on Henderson’s list, as they are all part of the EAFF. The CNMI, also an EAFF member, capped the roster.

Several youth players made it to the starting unit of the CNMI Men’s National Team that competed in the EAFF E-1 Football Championships 2019 Round 1. (Contributed Photo)

“Northern Mariana Islands are a part of the EAFF, and a part of the AFC, but are not a member of FIFA, and therefore do not compete in World Cup qualifying. They’re probably more famous for Roy Keane spitting his dummy out in Saipan during the 2002 World Cup, but the powers that be in Northern Mariana Islands football [Northern Mariana Islands Football Association] are working hard to change that,” Henderson said.

The football enthusiasts, who is from Newcastle in England, but is now based in Chinese-Taipei, also took note of the CNMI utilizing its homegrown talents for international competitions, such as EAFF and AFC-sanctioned tournaments.

“They give a lot of chances to younger players, when they played in the EAFF Championship. I believe they had the youngest squad there, so it is good for the players to get chances so young,” Henderson said.

In this 2018 file photo, CNMI Men’s National Team’s Ryan Relucio battles a Mongolian player for a header during their game in the EAFF E-1 Football Championships 2019 Round 1 at the Mongolian Football Federation Stadium in Ulan Bator. (Contributed Photo)

In the same story, Henderson discussed Mongolia’s chances in the World Cup qualifiers and how it “will feel justified in being at this stage of qualifying [Asian Cup preliminary round instead of the third round of World Cup qualifying] after being cheated out of the qualifying process last time around by East Timor’s fake Brazilians who claimed they were eligible to represent them when they weren’t.”

Providing opportunities to young players to suit up for the national team and tapping homegrown talents are the integral parts of the CNMI soccer program, according to NMIFA technical director Michiteru Mita.

“I have coached many different countries and I know some countries use overage or ineligible players to get wins immediately and that hurts their future development. NMIFA’s policy and priority is developing football. We all try to our best to win the game, but at the same time we are thinking more about how to continue developing our football in the next 10 years rather than win immediately,” said Mita, who is also the head coach of the CNMI Men’s National Team.

Youth player Sebastien Manabat participates in the CNMI national team’s training session at the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville last month. (Contributed Photo)

“We focus not only on national teams but also grassroots, coach education, youth development and all programs that include men and women, and our children. We are a small football country, but we work on all these core strategies to develop football. That’s way CNMI football keeps improving. I think [Henderson] story understands our effort,” added the NMIFA technical director, who manages the national team pools’ restricted training sessions at this time of the pandemic to prepare for competitions ahead.

Mita also said NMIFA is patiently working on its way up and he appreciates the time, dedication, and efforts all the stakeholders in the program have been giving to put CNMI soccer in the right direction towards becoming a force in the region.

“European countries took more than 100 years to build their football culture. We are only in our 15th year since the FA establishment, but we have already achieved many things. We have to be humble and keep working harder than others to continue to improve,” the national coach said.

Roselyn Monroyo | Reporter
Roselyn Monroyo is the sports reporter of Saipan Tribune. She has been covering sports competitions for more than two decades. She is a basketball fan and learned to write baseball and football stories when she came to Saipan in 2005.

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