Guam's Rovers FC to make first-ever appearance in AFC club football tournament
Budweiser Soccer League three-time defending champions, Rovers FC, will make history Aug. 19 when the team becomes the first club team from Guam to compete in an official AFC club football tournament match.
The team departed Guam Monday to Kyrgyzstan to compete in the qualifying stage of the 2017 AFC Cup. While in Bishkek, the Rovers will compete against Dordoi FC, runner up in the 2015 Kyrgyzstan League, on Aug. 19 and against Benfica de Macau, 2016 Campeonato da 1ª Divisão do Futebol champions, on Aug. 21. Only the top team will qualify for a spot in the next round of the multi-tiered club football tournament. The complete schedule of all upcoming qualifying stage matches is available on the AFC Web site.
“On behalf of Guam Football Association, I’m proud to support the Rovers in Guam’s first appearance in an AFC club football tournament,” said Richard Lai, GFA President. “The level of football has risen greatly in the past few years, thanks to the success of our national team, and through the hard work of our local clubs, all working toward the same goal to provide opportunities for Guam’s best players, coaches and officials at the highest level of the sport. We are now ready to compete against club teams in the region and I look forward to tracking the Rovers’ progress in the 2017 AFC Cup.”
Nine players from Guam’s national squad called up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia and AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 matches last year are also featured on the Rovers’ squad particularly for the AFC Cup. Captain Jason Cunliffe leads the team, which also includes Jonahan Romero, Ian Mariano, Jan-Willem Staman, Min Sung Choi, Scott Leon Guerrero, Brandon McDonald, Shane Malcolm, and goalkeeper Douglas Herrick from the Matao. Other players on the Rovers roster are David Drews, Paul Bourke, David McCallum, Natsuki Recella, Logan Dillenburger, Yaw Antwi-Agyei “Nana”, Nathan Sablan, Johnathan Archbold Reyes, Takumi Ito, and Camden Aguon. The team’s head coach is James Okuhama.
“After the success the Matao has had on the international stage, this is another step forward for football in Guam,” Romero said. “Being the first club team from Guam to play in an AFC tournament, the Rovers will be setting the tone for not only men’s football clubs in Guam, but youth clubs as well. Although we are still in the beginning stages, this is a great step in the right direction.”
With the vast size of Asia and the number of football clubs spread across the continent, the 46 member nations of AFC are separated into two zones – 23 countries in the West Zone and 23 in the East Zone. Guam is part of the East Zone and ranked No. 17 in the zone based on points determined by the performance of the Matao in international competition combined with international club performance.
The top six countries in each zone have at least one team in the group stage of the AFC Champions League, which is Asia’s primary club football tournament. The teams in the group stage of the AFC Champions League compete for a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Countries ranked No. 17 and below in each zone receive one slot in qualifying rounds of the AFC Cup, which is Asia’s secondary club football tournament for top club teams from AFC member associations not qualified for the year’s AFC Champions League.
“These guys have put in quite a bit of work for an amateur club – we are a small club and don’t have the financial horsepower of other organizations, but we have a lot of supporters who love the game,” said Joel Sablan, Rovers FC founder and manager. “Players from traditional rival clubs have gathered around this cause of development and pushing professional opportunities for Guahan’s talents. This is a great group of passionate footballers we’ve assembled and this venture is going to lay the foundation for greater possibilities in the next few years.
“We are Guahan, and in our isolation, we’re always scheming about how to push the envelope to get more. We hope to place our club, our families, our island and our country in the best possible light,” Sablan added.
Both of the Rovers’ opponents later this week, Dordoi FC and Benfica de Macau, have appeared in previous editions of the AFC Cup. A handful of players from Benfica de Macau played for Macau-China in this summer’s EAFF E-1 Football Championship Round 1 Guam, including Filipe Miguel Cordeiro Duarte, who also was called up to play for Portugal’s youth national teams before playing for Macau-China at the senior level.