By Jesse Pinkston
Guam has been known to produce some great athletes and Jason Cunliffe is no exception. His name is synonymous with soccer and anyone who plays the game knows who he is. Currently, Jason is the men’s national team captain and has nearly 25 years of experience under his belt, mind you; Jason isn’t even 30-years-old.
Cunliffe developed his passion and skills here on Guam and then ventured to Texas to further his soccer career where he won two youth national championships with his club team and won the Brasil Cup in 2001. He played for Santa Clara University and won three West Coast Conference titles and earned WCC honorable mention as a freshman. In 2003, his team made it to the Final Four where they lost to the eventual champions, Indiana, in double overtime. Cunliffe was named MVP of the East Asian Football Federation preliminary tournament in 2009. More recently, Jason has competed for Team Guam in the 2011 Pacific Games in New Caledonia and just came back from a tour in the Philippines. “We played against the Azkals (Philippines Men’s National team) and Global FC and Stallions FC (two pro teams from the UFL). These were literally our first three games together and while we have made some huge gains in our game, there is still work to be done.”
Jason “dabbled” in basketball, volleyball and track but remained true to soccer. He loves the beauty of the game. “All it takes is a ball, some make shift goals and some friends and you can play. It combines balance, strength, flexibility, power, accuracy, speed, endurance and most importantly intelligence all into one game. Combine this with the fact that you have to work with 10 other people at a time, in unison, to achieve one common goal; all the while 11 other humans are trying to beat you! It’s the equivalent to human chess.”
Cunliffe is taking his experience and applying it to his duties as captain. “My dad (Randy) taught me at a young age that once you commit to something you see it out to its completion. I want to be the best captain I can be and I want to play until I physically can’t play anymore. We train twice a day, 5-7 days a week. In the mornings we have some lighter work focused more on some individual skills and in the evenings we have our team-oriented sessions where we work on team tactics.” Jason talks about the dedication it takes to be on the National Team.
“Aside from a few players, we are not paid professionals; like most of our counterparts in Guam athletics we are amateurs who do it for the love of the sport and competition. We sacrifice time with our families and time with our friends to do our best to represent our island and while we may not always succeed, we are still proud and we hope the people of Guam are proud of us, too. Sometimes you don’t feel well or you may have been invited to a party but you still have practice and that will always be first. I show up every day to practice with the mentality that I’m there to get better. We joke and have fun but it’s serious. Things get pretty heated at times as everyone is an ardent competitor and nobody wants to lose be it in horseshoes or in a scrimmage. A football match is played for 90+ minutes and if you lose concentration and focus just for a second, it can cost your team a goal. This is something that our young guys need to remember and I’m trying to engrain this in their heads.”
Leading by example
Obviously soccer is a mental game as well as physical. It takes more than just going to practice to compete at a higher level and for Cunliffe, being captain means to lead by example.
“Physically I try to show them that they need to put the extra work in to compete on an international level. Modern day footballers can’t just rely on their skill as their predecessors once did. Now-a-days you have to pay attention to your nutrition, you have to get in the weight training and plyometrics, and most of all you have to stay hungry. Being the captain is a huge honor. As the oldest and most experienced player on the team it’s my job to lead by example and to show the younger guys what it takes to succeed at the highest level. This is a 24-hours-a-day-7-day-a-week responsibility. Off the field I need to show them that they have to do the extra things to take care of themselves and on the field I need to give our team a lift when necessary and maybe calm some nerves at other times. The team we have now consists of a great group of guys who all have the same goals and we are committed to doing the hard work to help us succeed.”
The team’s goals are simple. “We want to show up to training everyday ready to get better. We have a tournament coming up (in July) that we have been training for over 3 months. We are hosting and if we win in front of our family and friends, then we get to go on to Hong Kong in December for the next round. Looking down the road, this team has goals to win every game we play. We are a very young team and the future is looking very bright. The program, with the help of our President Mr. Richard Lai and the rest of the GFA executive committee members and staff, is heading nowhere but up. Our President went out and got a world-class coach in Gary White. The Gaffer (British terminology for the man in charge) has come in and changed the game from the get go. He’s brought a very modern and professional holistic approach to GFA regarding all aspects of football. Not only is he a genius regarding our on-field product, he’s done wonders with his community outreach and just really exposing us to a professional approach. I couldn’t be happier with the direction Guam Football is currently headed.”
Soccer is one of few sports that our children get involved in at a young age. On a Saturday morning one can drive past Harmon and see the soccer fields packed with three year olds just beginning the sport, all the way up to teenagers. The men and women on our national teams truly do care about our youth and the future of soccer. Cunliffe adds that, “Many of our current players are coaches. GFA does a good job of promoting giving back to the game by sending players abroad to attend coaching certifications so they can come home and share the knowledge with the youth. I personally have coached Father Duenas for the last two years and some of our players coach other middle school and high school teams. GFA has just recently started our Academy, which focuses on developing young kids on and off the field to give them an opportunity to earn a college scholarship. Our children are the future and we must invest not only our money but also our time into educating them and preparing them for whatever they may encounter; GFA is doing just that.”
Guam will be hosting the Preliminary Round July 17-22 for the East Asian Football Championship preliminary round at Leo Palace. “We are just working out some kinks. We are more prepared than we’ve ever been. Anything less than two wins in our two matches will be seen as a failure. We’ve never been expected to win before by anyone else or ourselves for that matter. But we expect to win now and we welcome the added pressure and the challenge.” Make sure to come out and support our local soccer teams and see for yourself how much the programs have developed.
NOTES ‘N MORE QUOTES: For those of you who haven’t heard of “Man in the Arena” by Theodore Roosevelt, Jason spoke of his favorite quote he wanted to share. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Lastly, Jason adds, “I’ve never had the opportunity to do this and I may not have another one so I’d like to thank my mom and dad for everything they’ve done for me. I’ve been fortunate to have two loving parents who have supported my love for football from day one and I literally couldn’t have accomplished anything without them. I’d also like to thank my girlfriend Camille Denight for putting up with my passion for football and for being the best mother to my son Zico boy!! Thank you to GFA and President Richard Lai for all the support and thank you Gaffer for believing in me (The Gaffer wants me to play professionally abroad somewhere. If the opportunity presents itself, and it makes sense for my family, then I’ll do it in a heartbeat; it’s all I have ever wanted to do.)!! Last but not least thanks to all the boys at CrossFit Guahan aka Raw Factory; WORK NOW, REST LATER!!!
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