From wearing a generic green uniform to donning the CNMI colors, and now a collegiate jersey.
That’s how Sunjoon Tenorio summed up his soccer journey, as he and five other Commonwealth players emerged as proud products of the Northern Mariana Island Football Association’s grassroots program. Tenorio, Guine Borja, Gabi Race, Enrico Del Rosario, Dai Podziewski, and Thaiphi Austria joined NMIFA Executive Committee member Norman Del Rosario in last Saturday’s airing of Footcast with Norman and discussed how their games have evolved from just being an active kid wanting to run around the American Memorial Park to mainstays of the CNMI national team and now as college players.
“I don’t remember the name of my team, but I remember wearing a green uniform when I started playing soccer when I was just 6 years old,” said Tenorio, who had an impressive debut in collegiate ranks with Suffolk University, as he was named Rookie of the Year and Team MVP of the NCAA Division III school.
Enrico Del Rosario, who once played for Alderson Broaddus University in the NCAA Division II and is now with Northern Kentucky University FC and in the Gotham Soccer League in Cincinnati, also had the same experience, as he recalled wearing a yellow uniform when he played at the AMP with a bunch of kids when he was 8.
Norman Del Rosario then explained that during the early years of soccer in the CNMI, there’s no club system and players were usually sponsored by private companies and had basic uniforms. When NMIFA was founded in 2005, the club system was implemented with Tenorio and Enrico Del Rosario becoming among the stalwarts of MP United, Borja, Podziewski, and Race playing for Paire, and Austria suiting up for TanHoldings.
The six players grew up to become regulars in the NMIFA Youth League and other side tournaments and eventually suited up for the CNMI national team, as they represented the islands in East Asian Football Federation and Asian Football Confederation-sanctioned competitions.
Tenorio and company acknowledged that their stint with the national team gave them sort of a pass to the collegiate ranks. Tenorio after debuting with Suffolk, is moving to Warner Pacific University, while Podziewski will stay with the Rams. Borja will start her first season with Navarro College in Texas, Austria will also have his rookie year with Trine University in Indiana, while Race played for Saddleback College in California.
Podziewski said that their time with the CNMI national team and the opportunities to play outside of Saipan against semi pro and pro players and some of the best players from bigger countries helped them prepare for the high-level competitions in college.
“You’re not intimidated that much because you know you are trained to play against tough players,” Podziewski said.
Borja added that the routines they learned while playing for the CNMI national team made them adjust better to the collegiate ranks.
“When we had the training camp for the national team, we used to have this eat, sleep, soccer, and repeat routine. It’s basically the same discipline in college plus you have your school work,” said Borja, who was part of the CNMI Women’s National Team that won back-to-back against Guam in the Marianas Cup.
Meanwhile, for players wishing to jump to the collegiate ranks, Race encouraged them to start their recruitment process early to get better offers and opportunities. If players don’t make it to the school team, Race told them not to be discourage and instead try to play for a club.
“School clubs have strong teams, too. I saw one beating a regular college team in a scrimmage. Your goal is to stay in school and still play soccer, you have a lot of options,” said Race, who played for the CNMI Women’s National Team that earned a historic win in 2014 against Macau and was the youngest player (14 years old) on the Commonwealths squad which saw action in the 2013 EAFF East Asian Cup Preliminary Round 1 in Guam in 2012.