Monday, 25 February 2013

Northern Mariana Islands set for tough AFC Challenge Cup debut

Ayuyu's...before Saturday's
draw.
The Northern Mariana Islands arrived in Nepal on Sunday ahead of their AFC Challenge Cup debut and what will likely be the three toughest games in their history. The Asian Football Confederation associate member will take on the hosts on Saturday before playing a powerful Palestine team as well as Bangladesh in qualification group D.

Since joining the East Asian Football Federation in 2007 the Blue Ayuyu’s have seen more international action but remain one of the world’s weaker sides. The last 3 EAFF Cup qualification rounds have featured the islanders but they've been outclassed on each occasion, losing comfortably to sides like Mongolia and Macau. Their most recent outing was a friendly against neighbours Guam in November and the non-FIFA side were on the wrong end of an 8-0 thumping, suggesting they are somewhat behind even the smaller AFC members. The Northern Mariana Islands have not won an international since 1998 when they saw off Guam 3-0 and thrashed Palau 11-2, their only international successes.


Hitman...Miller (no. 9) will be the main 
man in attack
Despite a gulf in standards the Blue Ayuyu’s have been training intensively and have played every Saturday for the past 2 months against a local league select with goalkeeper Johann Noetzal adding "in the 1st month of our training, we practiced twice a week. In the last few months, we've practiced 6 times a week". The standout player is record-scorer Joe Miller who has 4 international goals to his name but the captain is realistic “it's a big challenge to score in this event". It’s hard to envisage the MP United man receiving many opportunities in Kathmandu and the focus will more likely be on the defence. Former FC Dallas draft Noetzel will start in goal in front of a young backline - improvements in the youth teams means coach Luam Khen Koo has called some players up to this squad including Jireh Yobech and Sean Perez. 32-year old Peter Loken could join Miller in attack. 
Experience...Loken might 
 play alongside Miller.


Team spirit is likely to play a big part in their results and the islanders will spend this week acclimatising to the altitude in Nepal but it's hard to see them gaining any points, or even a goal, in their debut Challenge Cup. A friendly against Japan Soccer College did produce a 2-0 win and was followed by a game against Philippine club Loyala, as they stopped over en-route to Nepal, in which the islanders gained a positive 0-0 draw. However it's likely they’ll be severely outclassed by nations who are much stronger than teams they are used to succumbing too. 

Updates and match reports of the Blue Ayuyu’s campaign will be available on Twitter @NonFIFAfootball and the blog.  

Squad (including club, caps & goals) - 
Goalkeepers
Johann Noetzel - Unattached - 1 (0)
Evan Hunsberger - Inter-Godfathers - 0
Chris Nelson - Inter-Godfathers - 4 (0)
Defenders
Dan Westphal - Unattached - 4 (0)
William Dunn - Paire - 3 (0)
Lucas Knecht - Georgia Southwestern State University (USA) - 7 (0)
Raphael Zapanta - Paire - 1 (0)
Nick Swaim - MP United - 7 (1)
Kirk Schuler - MP United - 3 (1)
Midfielders: 
Yukiomi Adachi - ? (Japan) - 1 (0)
Steve McKagen - Paire - 6 (1)
Ruselle Zapanta - Tan Holdings - 1 (0)
Jireh Yobech - Inter Godfathers - 1 (0)
Michael Barry - Harrisburg Community College (USA) - 2 (0)
Jake Lee - MP United - 1 (0)
Kenneth Domingo
Justin Wing San Tan
Forwards
Joe Miller - MP United - 8 (4)
Peter Loken - Inter-Godfathers - 7 (1)
Tim Tawanpiy - Paire - 0
Dae Won Joen - ? (USA) - 0
Jehn Joyner - MP United - 0
Sean Perez - Tan Holdings - 0

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