Northern Mariana Islands Football Association is now reaping the fruits of its grassroots program, as more young players have been suiting up for its elite men’s and women’s national teams.
NMIFA president Jerry Tan, during last Friday’s send-off ceremony for the CNMI men’s and women’s national squads that will be competing in the EAFF E-1 Football Championship 2019 Round 1 in Mongolia next month, noted that majority of the members of the squad are products of their grassroots program.
“We have a lot of young players on our national teams. These are the players who started with our grassroots programs. We thank the different clubs for taking care of our players and helping them improved their games. Without our locals clubs, we will not be able to implement our grassroots program effectively,” Tan said.
For the men’s team, Thaiphi Austria, Jehn Joyner, Sunjoon Tenorio, Enrico Del Rosario, Sebastian Manabat, Bo Barry, John Michael Rojas, and siblings Anthony and Joel Fruit are products of the association’s grassroots program, while the women’s side has Gabrielle Race, Guinevere Borja, Gillian Villagomez, Katrina Costales, Paulyn Joyce, Carla Ballesteros, and Krizel Tuazon. When the first CNMI men’s national team was formed in 2007 and played against Guam in the first-ever Marianas Cup, the squad had only one U18 player, while the rest were in their late 30s to mid 40s. The women’s team also lacked a lot of young blood when it played in the East Asian Football Association-sanctioned tournament in 2009.
CNMI Men’s National Team captain Jonathan Takano said having a young squad this year means the group has a lot of potential. Women’s team captain Janelle Chojnacki, on the other hand, said that the young players on their squad are prepared to give their all at the pitch and hopefully produce positive results.
The men’s and women’s national teams will be playing against Guam, Macau, and Mongolia in the EAFF qualifier that will run from Sept. 2 to 7 at the Mongolia Football Federation Stadium and Mongolian National Stadium in Ulan Bator.
Meanwhile, Tan also acknowledged the players’ parents for their unwavering support that began when their children’s started to show interest in the sport.
“Every time we are sending teams in off-island tournaments, I will not forget to thank the parents whose support encourages their children to stay in the program,” Tan said.