TanHoldings Football Club escaped with an important 1-0 victory over rival MP United FC in the final regular season game in the boys U17 division of the 2017 NMIFA Youth Spring League last Saturday at the Hopwood Middle School Field.
The win put TanHoldings in a tie for first place with MP United as the two teams ended the double-round robin competition with similar 7-0-1 win-draw-loss records. A playoff game will be held to decide the winner of the division title and the organizing Northern Mariana Islands Football Association has yet to announce the date of the rubber.
MP United, which only needed a draw to defend its spring title, failed to shut the door on TanHoldings after giving up a goal to Mark Esalan just four minutes into the second half.
Esalan beat three MP United defenders to the ball and with the TanHoldings player sprinting ahead of their opponents, goalie Clayton Izuka was forced to leave his spot and tried to dive for the ball to prevent the former from kicking the leather. However, Izuka lost his footing a bit and fell on the ground without his hand on the ball, while Esalan jumped over the MP United goalie and kicked the ball in.
Esalan was then mobbed by his teammates as he ended TanHoldings’ frustration. Esalan, in the early part of the 40-minute second half, attempted to score twice, but was denied by Izuka on both occasions. Then in the first half, TanHoldings players were a bit gun shy as even though they had open looks for a shot, they opted to make extra passes, which they could not turn into goals, as MP United’s defense had already set up. TanHoldings made a couple of attempts and did not succeed, as Izuka held his ground and caught the ball, leaving both teams scoreless in the first half.
In the second half, TanHoldings sensed the urgency to score with the season on the line. Esalan anchored the squad’s offense, using his speed to break away from his defenders and his persistence eventually paid off in the 44th minute.
Now down, MP United began to be more aggressive on offense and had several opportunities to score. Sunjoon Tenorio went for headers three times and missed, while the rest of MP United players also struggled to score. TanHoldings, on the other hand, focused more on defense after Esalan’s conversation and it also wisely melted the clock to protect the shaky lead.
Meanwhile, Paire FC avoided a shutout this season after beating Matansa, 6-4, in its last game in the division.
Dai Podziewski knocked in a pair of goals for Paire, which wrapped up the competition with a 1-1-6 record. Ja Min Elliot, Lukesh Lama, Rex De Jose, and George Sokarev chipped in one goal apiece in Paire’s good finish.
Matansa, which also ended the season with a 1-1-6 card, drew one goal each from Joshua De Leon and Justin Charles Achas. Matansa and Paire fell behind Kanoa FC in the final team standings as the latter held a 2-2-4 slate.