It’s the turn of the former members of the CNMI Men’s National Team to walk us through their experience with the Blue Ayuyus in Episode 2 of Footcast with Norman aired last Saturday.
Lucas Knecht, Bo Barry, Jonathan Takano, and Kirk Schuler, who are off-island, and Trey Dunn shared had a lengthy discussion with Footcast moderator Norman Del Rosario and among the topics mentioned was the personal sacrifice the players had to make for the national team.
Knecht, since moving back to the mainland, had to skip school for three to four weeks to attend the Blue Ayuyus’ training camp and play for the CNMI in East Asian Football Confederation and Asian Football Confederation-sanctioned tournaments.
“It was tough, especially when you get back to school and catch up. But, I will do it again because it’s an honor to play for the national team,” said Knecht, who made history for the NMI, as he became the youngest player (14 years old) in the world to have played for a men’s national team in an international match when he suited up for the Commonwealth in the 2017 Marianas Cup.
The centerback also recalled the 4:30am run to the American Memorial Park with former teammate Tyce Mister as part of their training session under the CNMI’s first coach Jeff “Ziggy” Korytoski.
“We call it the ‘Circle of Death,” Knecht said.
Barry, also one of the young players on the team, remembered the summer they spent on Saipan training instead of being with their families in the mainland and enjoying vacation. In his early years with the squad, he also pointed out the series of practices in a day (between club and national team duties), four to five days a week plus the volunteer work (coaching or referring) they had with the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association and their respective clubs.
Schuler, who rejoined the national team twice from the mainland after leaving Saipan in 2011, missed the first birthday of her daughter when he played for the Blue Ayuyus in 2016 during the EAFF E-1 Football Championships 2017 Round 1.
“It was just unfortunate to miss my daughter’s first birthday. But, you have to do your part since everyone wants to do it, play for the CNMI. I have great admiration for our team, for working together and having the FA’s support when we go out there and represent the islands,” Schuler said.
With his desire to play for the Commonwealth so high, Schuler had to squeeze training time (on his own) from his already busy schedule with family and work duties (he works as a lawyer in Iowa) to keep up with the on-island players’ preparations. Schuler also played club soccer until last year when a nagging knee injury forced him to have a break.
Dunn, meanwhile, has been on island since he started suiting up for the Blue Ayuyus in 2014, but nearly missed a family milestone while preparing for a competition. He injured his shoulder while playing in training match against a Japanese collegiate team just days before his wife gave birth to their son.
“When he came, I was too scared and can’t hold him because I was still wearing the sling,” Dunn said.
After recalling the highs and lows of their time with the Blue Ayuyus, Dunn and company were just thankful for the opportunities to play for the national team and work with guys who were willing to step up back then and start something that will benefit future generation of CNMI players.