The NMI Boys U18 National Team escaped with a 4-3 win in a penalty shootout against TanHoldings Football Club to clinch the MSL Cup in the Marianas Soccer League Fall Season 2021 last Sunday at the NMI Soccer Training Center in Kobleville.
Kohtaro Goto hit the game-winning PK, while goalie Dane Hodges made the big defensive stop down the stretch of the closely fought finale to rule the season and foil TanHoldings’ title bid and attempt for a perfect season. TanHoldings came into the finals seeded No. 1, as it swept the regular season (5-0-0), while the NMI U18 lurked behind with its 4-0-1 win-draw-loss record. The NMI U18 and TanHoldings went on to arrange their championship showdown after eliminating Eleven Tiger, 2-1, and Paire Football Club, 2-0 respectively.
In the finals, TanHoldings went toe-to-toe against the NMI U18 with Richard Steele leading the latter in regulation and Sunjoon Tenorio doing the same for the former. Steele gave the NMI U18 the upper hand with his goal in the 17th minute and stretched the lead to 2-0 with another conversion in the 72nd minute.
Then just when the NMI U18 thought they could cruise to the finals win, Tenorio came to TanHoldings’ rescue in the closing minutes, starting off with his goal in the 81st. Tenorio followed it up with the equalizer just a few seconds before regulation ended, as he took an off-balanced shot inside the penalty area. The game remained in a deadlock after the nine-minute extra time, bringing the finale into a shootout.
In the decider, TanHoldings got off to a good start, thanks to Michiteru Mita and Ronnel Ocanada, who took the first two shots and hit their target. The NMI U18, on the other hand, had Brian Lubao as the first PK taker and he faltered, as TanHoldings goalie Chris Aninzo pushed the ball out.
After the NMI U18’s initial miss, Taka Borja and Daniel Pablo converted their attempts to knot the count, while Joshua Mendez muffed the third shot for TanHoldings. Tenorio then unloaded the fourth PK shot for TanHoldings and put the team back on top, 3-2. However, the NMI U18 equalized anew, thanks to Dev Bachani’s PK that crossed over the left upper portion of the goal.
With the match tied and each team down to one shooter, all eyes were on the opposing teams’ goalies with Aninzo facing Hodges. The NMI U18 goalie won the one-on-one showdown after sliding to his right just in time to block Aninzo’s shot and push the ball out.
Next up on the hot spot was Kohtaro Goto and he delivered under pressure by making the shot over Aninzo, who tried to use his right hand to stop the ball, but the shot went a bit to his left and over his hand.
Meanwhile, the title game in the Hafa Adai Cup was also played last Sunday and results will be published in Saipan Tribune’s Wednesday issue.