Thursday, June 24, 2010

Marianas Cup ends in 1-1 draw

From the Saipan Tribune:
Marianas Cup ends in 1-1 draw
By Roselyn Monroyo
Monday, June 21, 2010

Almost, but not quite.

The CNMI Men's National Football Team was poised to pull off an upset over rival Guam when Jason Ryan Cunliffe scored a late goal, forcing the two neighbors to share honors in the 4th Annual Marianas Football Cup as the Saturday match at the Oleai Sports Complex Field ended in a 1-1 draw.

The host smelled blood when forward Joe Miller found the back of the net in the 68th minute, giving the CNMI a 1-0 lead.

All the Commonwealth's strikers needed to do was play tough defense and frustrate the visitors' attackers. CNMI goalie Chris Nelson and company did just that for nearly 20 minutes after Miller's goal until Cunliffe found one small lapse on the host's defense.

Guam swung the ball to the left with Cunliffe leading the attack and finding himself inside the penalty box. Two CNMI defenders faced Cunliffe, while Nelson instead of leaning to his left opted to move to his right to provide help defense in case the Guam forward decided to inch in closer and pass his defenders.

Nelson had been successful in running after Guam attackers and quickly diving for the ball in the first half and in the opening minutes of the second half. However, this time Cunliffe read the defense well and instead of moving in closer, he stopped and made a cross kick to the right where CNMI defenders were unavailable to block the shot. Nelson made a last-ditch effort of saving the ball, but was unsuccessful.

Cunliffe knocked down the equalizer in the 89th minute and with only a minute left in the match, Jason Schroeder had two chances to score from the left corner, but just could not get the ball to roll in.

When the game ended past 7pm, it took match commissioners a while to decide how to resolve the draw. Stressing the importance of players' safety and considering the inadequate lighting at the pitch, officials, in consultation with both teams, decided to call it a night and declare the CNMI and Guam as co-champions of theMarianas Cup.

Saipan hosted the Marianas Cup for the second time since its inception in 2007. In the first three editions, Guam came out the winner all the time.

Guam and the CNMI's fortunes seemed headed for a switch Saturday afternoon, as the host turned out to be the aggressor at the start of the match.

The CNMI surprisingly dominated possession in the first half and each time the home team had the ball and went for an attack, it drew loud cheers from the crowd, majority of whom obviously rooted for the Commonwealth's strikers.

The loudest roar came when Miller lit up the scoreboard on a shot inside the penalty box. Yikiomi Adachi started the offensive play when he sprinted to the left corner and made a pass to Miller in the center. Guam goalie Brett Maluweng then saw Miller moving closer, so the former gambled on stealing the ball before the latter could hit it. Maluweng paid a dear prize for the gambit, as he collided with Miller and the ball slipped away from his hands. With Maluweng still on the ground, looking for the ball and Guam midfielder Jude Bischoff a few steps late for a rescue, Miller found himself alone in the center and kicked the ball in.

The remaining minutes after Miller's goal were scary for the CNMI, as it repeatedly tried to foil Guam's attempts to equalize, until Cunliffe found one small opening on the host's defense to save the day for the visitors.

After Cunliffe's goal, the CNMI was left with limited options on offense, as Miller was already on the bench. Miller was injured and was pulled out of the match several minutes after he scored.

The CNMI had three more casualties due to the intense game, which saw a lot of shoving and accidental collisions. First to go out was Edwin Cruz, who fell on the ground after banging against a Guam defender. Next was Peter Houk, who also collided with a Guam defender in the second half. Houk and Cruz both went out of the game in a stretcher, but managed to go home in one piece. Midfielder Gilmark Reusora left the game midway in the second half limping, as he rammed into Maluweng while trying to recover a loose ball near the goal box.

As the game ended in draw, the CNMI was without its four starters, while Guam had two players forced to sit on the bench due to injuries.

“Injury definitely took its toll on us. We're just a few minutes away from victory, but unfortunately, Guam had time to tie the game. Still, I believed we did a pretty good job tonight, as the players gave their all in the game. Maybe next time, we will finally catch them,” CNMI captain Nick Swaim said.

“What you saw tonight was a high-level competition and we're just proud to give Guam a tough match, which something we always strive for every time we play against them,” he added.

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