The midfield makeover is perhaps the biggest change for the CNMI men as the Blue Ayuyus made some positional changes and picked up three new players since their 2007 meeting with Guam. Peter Houk served as the home team’s top offensive threat last year, and he’ll maintain his presence at the heart of the CNMI’s attack.
Houk’s footwork will be complimented by returning youngster, Lucas Knecht. The Saipan International School student’s maturity and skill have grown to match his size during the past year, and Knecht looks make the transition to soccer manhood by playing in his second international match.
Knecht has received plenty of pointers along the way from returning starter, Angelo Villagomez. The environmentalist took the field as a striker when the CNMI last played Guam, but Villagomez has transitioned into his new role of midfielder with ease.
Chemistry in the middle of the field is a key component to any team’s success, and the addition of three position players to mix has thus far proved to be a benefit to the CNMI’s central core. Elementary school teacher Peter Loken will play his first international game with the squad, along with fellow rookies, Steve McKagan and Joe Miller.
An accomplished tennis player and part-time actor, Loken has the athletic ability to get the job done, and he garnered the respect of his teammates when he was recently named as the CNMI’s co-captain. McKagan has also proved his value to the squad in his first season of Saipan soccer, as the fisheries biologist added the same experience that helped lead the CNMI All-Stars to a 3-3 tie with Guam last summer.
Miller is one of the youngest players on the team, and the Kagman High School student brings his passion for the game and positive attitude every time he takes the field. Miller has been with the team just under two months after making his debut in the CNMI Men’s League this year.
While the midfielders have plenty of youth, the CNMI forwards have the benefit of years of experience with strikers Chris Guerrero and Choi Yong Woon. For the past seven weeks, Guerrero has spent his days keeping Saipan safe with the Department of Public Safety and his evenings working out with his teammates. After missing out on last year’s home and home series with Guam, he looks to help bring the CNMI its first Marianas Cup victory.
While Guerrero takes care of the ground, Choi spends most of his time minding the skies with Asiana Airlines. Injuries prevented him from joining the squad in 2007, and Choi plans on making the most of his first international competition this Sunday.
The same goes for new forwards Michael Thomas and Brad Ruszala. Both earned spots on the roster last year, but only Thomas found playing time against Guam in both games. After running the flanks in the midfield, Thomas’ offseason training regimen resulted in better ball handling skills and increased endurance.
Ruszala made the move from fullback to midfielder in with the Independents of the Men’s League, and on to striker with the nationals. The former sports reporter turned PTI marketing associate aims at earning his first international cap in front of the home crowd this Sunday.
The 2nd edition of the Marianas Cup gets underway tomorrow afternoon when the women take the field at 3pm with pre-game activities getting underway at 2:45pm. Day Two takes place between the men on Sunday at 3pm with pre-game activities getting underway at 2:45pm, as well. Attendance is free and organizers invite the community to provide the same crowd support that last year’s team enjoyed.