CNMI football success is Guam's dream
By Roselyn Monroyo
A relieved Richard Lai, president of Guam Football Association, showed up at the banquet for the 4th Annual Marianas Football Cup and shared the mixed emotions he felt during the Guam-CNMI tussle last Saturday at the Oleai Sports Complex Field.
“About two minutes before the match ended and with CNMI ahead, I was nervous. It seemed like we were about to lose a game against the CNMI for the first time,” Lai said during the banquet at the Seaside Grill of Saipan Grand Hotel.
After a scoreless first half, the CNMI took a 1-0 lead when Joe Miller nailed a goal in the 68th minute off a gamble by Guam goalie Brett Maluweng.
“But at the same time, I was proud, as several years ago, this CNMI players were just getting the feel of the game and we are helping them reach the competitive level of play by playing against them. Now, CNMI players improved significantly and they were about to beat us,” the GFA head added.
Fortunately, Jason Ryan Cunliffe saved the day for Guam, drilling a late goal in the 89th minute to force a 1-1 tie.
“My boy, Jason came out with the gutsy play and scored, just like what he did during the EAFF preliminary in Guam last year,” Lai said.
Cunliffe made a game-tying goal for Guam in the 91st minute during their match against Macau, allowing Guam to rule the preliminary tournament and beat eventual runner-up Mongolia.
With or without Cunliffe's game-saving goal last weekend, Lai had his hats off to CNMI players, its coaches, and officials for a well-organized event and for giving Guam another tough game.
“It there's one organization which will be proud to see CNMI players improved, it would be GFA. Your success in football is our dream. We will do our best to help Northern Mariana Islands Football Association develop its program and continue improving their players' skills,” Lai added.
Meanwhile, Lai and the Guam men's and women's team members and coaches thanked organizers of the Marianas Cup for providing them a much improved pitch.
Two years ago, Guam strikers struggled in a bit rocky and dry Oleai pitch. Then more than a month before this year's Marianas Cup, NMIFA through the help of both the private and public sectors rehabilitated the pitch, which now resembles the manicured greens of a golf course.
NMIFA president Jerry Tan thanked all those who contributed to the successful staging of the Marianas Cup and vowed to keep the good condition of the Oleai pitch and seek improvement of other fields to ensure safety of the players.