This tiny island in the Pacific (which is a U.S. territory) has a population of only 165,000. You might be wondering how did they put together such a good team considering their very small population. The answer for this question might be closer than think.
Many of Guam’s players actually were born, grew up or came to play here in California. To name a few of them: Ryan Guy, Dallas Jaye, Ian Adamos, John Landa, Shawn Nicklaw, Travis Nicklaw, Josh Borja, Zachary DeVille, Mason Grimes. One member of the squad actually is a defender for LA Galaxy, A.J. DeLaGarza. This might be one of the reasons why this new team is more competitive and finally getting positive results internationally.
Guam is participating in a World Cup qualifier for the first time since 2000, when they lost 19-0 to Iran and 16-0 to Tajikistan. They are now ranked 174 in the FIFA ranking, but if Guam keeps progressing, they will play another round with 12 teams split in 2 groups and the top two teams from each group will automatically qualify for the World Cup.
[quote_box_center]Coach Gary White said: “Our final outcome that we want is to put Guam football on the map, and I think that’s happening already.” [/quote_box_center]
I was able to interview one of Guam’s players, Ian Mariano, who actually played here in San Diego to understand a little bit more how this all happened.
[quote_box_center]“I lived in Monterrey for a year and in San Diego for another year. When I played out there what I loved the most was the year-round training. There was always a league going on, whether it was indoor soccer or outdoor soccer, the AYSO. When I lived in Monterrey I played in college for Monterrey Peninsula College for a year. Then I moved down to San Diego, and I trained and played with the Nomads.”[/quote_box_center]
Ian mentions that the atmosphere here in San Diego is very competitive and everybody wants to win. In Guam, they don’t have that same level of competition all year long, since Guam is only 30 miles long and 9 miles wide. Teams from all over the state and country come to compete in California, and that’s how California develop great players.
[quote_center]“You can just tell that they are unique, I loved them! They are their own breed, in a good way. We all get along…they have their own character trait.” – Ian Mariano[/quote_center]
The midfielder from Guam believes that Turkmenistan underestimated them because of Guam’s last campaign in this tournament after the massive defeat to Iran.
[quote_box_center]“We were mentally and physically prepared. I’m not taking anything away from Turkmenistan, but they showed up the morning of the game, played at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and they left at 2 a.m. It says a lot about how people look at us. People look at our history and see that the last World Cup qualifier that we played we lost 20-0 to Iran. So you know, it’s a great feeling to prove people wrong, to showcase what the island is about and how we go into battles.”[/quote_box_center]
Guam played Turkmenistan and India and was able to win both matches, leading group D now with 6 points. This is a really big deal for the Pacific Island that had its first victory ever in a World Cup qualifier and continue to have a good campaign in the tournament as the underdogs.
When asked how does it feel to be part of such a big achievement for Guam, Ian said:
[quote_box_center]“First of all, it’s an amazing feeling, I’ve answered this question multiple times, and I dreamt of it, I just didn’t think it would come this soon. It’s definitely a huge accomplishment for the entire program. It feels like a dream come true. It is still a little surreal. It actually took a couple of days after the tournament to realized what we just accomplished”[/quote_box_center]
Ian says the national program is definitely very important to young players to start getting a taste of what is like to be a professional soccer player.
[quote_box_center]“Starting at the age of 11 with the national program I got to travel, I got to get a little taste of how it feels to be a professional player where you get to travel, room and board is taken care of, you play international matches, you train, you eat, sleep, play football all day for a couple weeks at a time.”[/quote_box_center]
As far as advice for young kids who want to make it to the next level, playing for a national team:
[quote_box_center]“I’d just say train hard, wherever you are in the world. We are having some issues here where some people think it’s not fair that people from off island are able play for the national team because they don’t live here. But I mean, you got to take a step back and look at the big picture and just realized that you can’t settle for being the best on Guam. So if we get the kids into that mindset that the kid is the best on Guam but there is someone maybe in Europe, in San Diego, in Alaska, or wherever may be, they are still eligible to play for the national team. So I’d just say don’t be complacent with being the best in Guam or being the best wherever you are at. Always train as if the guy next to you will take your spot. It’s a cliché but work hard, and that’s really what it comes down to: who wants it more. Definitely work hard.[/quote_box_center]
Guam will play next against Iran on September 3rd and Oman five days after that.
Ian’s special thanks goes to family, friends, sponsors, Guam Football Association, President Richard Lai, Head Coach Garry White, Club team Rovers FC.