The Northern Mariana Islands Football Association Men's National Team will be leaving early Saturday morning to compete in the Asian Football Confederation 2014 Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The Men's National Team, dubbed the Blue Ayuyus, will play three preliminary round qualifying games against Nepal, Palestine, and Bangladesh. The three games will be held from March 2 to 6. The first match versus Nepal will be played on March 2 at the Dashrath Stadium, Kathmandu. The Men's National Team will be coached by Malaysian football legend Koo Luam Khen, a veteran of Malaysia's 1972 Olympic campaign and former head coach of Hong Kong. The Men's National Team is made up of 20 CNMI residents who are also United States citizens.
The Challenge Cup is an international football competition for Asian Football Confederation (AFC) member nations that are categorized as “emerging” countries. The Northern Marianas Islands Football Association is currently an associate member of AFC and is one of the youngest football associations in the world. Competing in tournaments such as the Challenge Cup is one of the requirements the NMIFA must fulfill in order to become a full member of AFC.
The AFC Challenge Cup was specifically created for lesser-developed football nations to gain experience playing in international competitions. The three qualifying games in Nepal will be the NMIFA Men's National Team's first in an AFC-sanctioned international competition. Should they do well enough to qualify for the next round of competition, they will advance to the finals of the Challenge Cup will be held in the Maldives Islands in 2014. North Korea is the defending champion, but is not eligible to compete since it is now classified as a “fully developed” football nation.
The 20 CNMI players include Joe Miller, Jehn Joyner, Jireh Yobech, Tim Tawanpiy, Sean Perez, Ruselle Zapanta, Raphael Zapanta, Jake Tiger Lee, Steve McKagan, Peter Loken, Dan Westphal, Trey Dunn, Lucas Knecht, Bo Barry, Yuki Adachi, Nick Swaim, Dae Won Jeon, Chris Nelson, Evan Hunsberger, and Johann Noetzel. The official delegation includes NMIFA president Jerry Tan, head coach Luam Khen Koo, assistant coach Chi Ming Tang, assistant coach Ho Man Chen, Wesley M. Bogdan, Norman del Rosario, and Pamela Carhill. The Men's National Team is supported in part by local companies such as IT&E and Marianas Health Services. (NMIFA)