Guåhan / Guam
- Capital: Hagåtña
- Official Languages: English, Chamorro
- Nicknames: Matao; Masakåda
- Association: Guam Football Association (GFA)
- FIFA Code: GUM
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Asian Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best Asian Cup Result (Women): Group Stage (1997, 1999, 2001, 2003)
- Best AFC Challenge Cup Result (Men): Group Stage (2006)
- Best EAFF Championship Result (Men): Second Preliminary Round (2010, 2013, 2015, 2017)
- Best EAFF Championship Result (Women): Second Preliminary Round (2015, 2017)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 146th (August-September 2015)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 66th (July 2003, March 2004)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 205th (November 2004 – February 2005)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 127th (March 2011)
- Most Capped Player: Jason Cunliffe – 61 caps [as of June 2021]
- Top Scorer: Jason Cunliffe – 22 goals [as of June 2021]
The island state of Guam (Guåhan) is an unincorporated and organised territory of the United States, situated in the Micronesia subregion of the western Pacific Ocean. It is considered as the westernmost point of US territory, and is the largest island within Micronesia and the Mariana island chain. Guam is situated south of the Northern Mariana Islands (another US unincorporated territory and AFC member), with Palau to its far southwest, and the Federated States of Micronesia to its south and southeast. The Guam national team is known by its nickname “Matao” in international football. In ancient Chamorro history, the people from the highest class of society were called Matao, and they were the highest-ranking individuals and leaders of clan and village groups. They were the wealthiest and most privileged of Guam’s different social classes in ancient history.
The Guamanian FA were founded in 1975, playing their first officially recognised match in the same year by losing 5-1 to the Solomon Islands at home. They would be regular competitors in the South Pacific Games throughout the 1970s, although it wouldn’t be until 1996 when they became both full members of FIFA and AFC (they had been AFC associate members since 1991), and becoming founding members of the EAFF in 2002. Their first qualifying campaign came in the 1996 Asian Cup where they finished bottom of a group with South Korea, Vietnam, and Chinese Taipei/Taiwan.
It wouldn’t be until the late 2000s when Guam started seeing some success after focused efforts to improve football on the island from a number of AFC-supported projects. Firstly they achieved their first competitive victories, beating the Northern Marianas 3-2 and 9-0 in the two-legged preliminary round of the 2008 EAFF Championship, before achieving further success in the preliminary round of the 2010 edition of the East Asian tournament. They successfully managed to defeat another AFC member for the first time, beating Mongolia 1-0, before achieving another victory over the Northern Marianas, and a 2-2 draw with Macau to top the preliminary group.
A FIFA-made short documentary from 2013 about the Guam national team: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETDaxKuVTA8
The 2010s saw considerable success for the Matao especially during the second round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup & 2019 Asian Cup. In their first group game, they managed to defeat Turkmenistan 1-0 at home through a Serdar Annaorazow own goal, before famously following it up in a ‘David versus Goliath’ style victory when they defeated India 2-1 – an incredible achievement for a country of a population size of 180,000 to defeat a country with a population of well over a billion people. Brandon McDonald and Travis Nicklaw getting the historic goals for the Guamanians. They also achieved a goalless draw with eventual group runners-up Oman in their third group game, before eventually finishing fourth in their five-team group, but still finishing above India. During that period, it also saw the team reach their highest FIFA World Ranking of 146th, showing the progression of the side during that period.
The Guamanians did manage to progress to the Second Round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup after beating Bhutan 5-1 on aggregate in the First Round, although they were unable to match the heroics of the previous qualifying campaign. In a group containing Syria, China, Philippines, and the Maldives, the Matao lost all eight of their group games and scored just two goals to finish bottom of their qualifying group. Regardless, football on the island continues to develop, and there are strong hopes that more talented players can progress through the youth teams into the senior side, and improve the fortunes of the national team in the near future.
To talk about a side who are one of the smallest countries within the AFC confederation, but have achieved some spectacular results in recent years, we interviewed the brilliant Jill Espiritu. Jill is a former news reporter, tutor, translator, hotel department head, volleyball player, tennis player, and footballer, but her current role is the Guamanian FA’s Media and Marketing Officer. To find her social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @Storee16
NOTE: The answers given below are Jill’s opinions only, and not those of the Guam Football Association.
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
Guam’s best-ever player would arguably be the current captain, Jason Cunliffe [37-year-old striker], who also has the most international caps for Guam at 61 appearances and also the most goals scored for Guam at 22 goals. Although Guam has been competing internationally since 1975 (in the regional South Pacific Games, now called Pacific Games), Guam did not become a member of FIFA until 1996. Ten years after Guam gained FIFA membership, Jason made his senior level debut in an AFC Challenge Cup match against Bangladesh in Bangladesh. He became the team’s captain in 2012 and most recently wore the captain’s armband in a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and AFC Asian Cup China 2023™ Asian Qualifiers match against the Philippines on June 11, 2021.
He plays club football in Guam, most recently for the Bank of Guam Strykers FC, in the Budweiser Soccer League Premier Division. He’s also previously played professionally in the Philippines within the past 10 years. At the U.S. intercollegiate level, he played for the Santa Clara University Broncos and made an NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Tournament Final Four appearance with the team. He spoke candidly about his football journey in a recent Instagram Live interview with Nate Burkey, a former professional football player and Philippines national team player who does football analysis in the Philippines:
As for manager of all-time, it is a tough call, as we’ve had different managers from all over the world who had joined the team at different developmental levels and with varying objectives put forth by the Guam FA Executives. For example, the team first played in FIFA World Cup qualification in 2000, but did not play again in FIFA World Cup qualification rounds until 2015 for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. In between that time, the team played in a few AFC tournaments, and more consistently in EAFF tournaments under different managers.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
For this question, we would probably go back to Jason Cunliffe, especially since he’s also a long-time player in Guam’s domestic league and recognizable among many fans internationally and locally, as well as young football players in Guam. Beginning in 2020, he was appointed as the Guam U17 National Team Head Coach also. Another candidate would be A.J. DeLaGarza [33-year-old full-back], currently playing for the New England Revolution in the MLS, who had also played for the L.A. Galaxy, and helped them win three of their five MLS Cup championship trophies between 2009 and 2016. A.J. made his debut for Guam in 2013 during an international friendly match against Laos and a few days later against Cambodia. He most recently played for Guam in 2019 against Bhutan in a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and AFC Asian Cup 2023 China™ Asian Qualifiers Round 1 match held in Guam. Guam defeated Bhutan 5-0 in that match and 5-1 on aggregate to advance to Round 2 of qualification. The first player from the MLS to play for Guam though was Ryan Guy [35-year-old winger who is currently a player-coach of North County Battalion], who made his debut for Guam in 2012 during the Philippines Football Peace Cup tournament. He last played for Guam in 2016 in Round 2 of the EAFF E-1 Football Championship Preliminary Round in Hong Kong.
An interesting tidbit about the Guam national team is the amount of brothers who have featured in tournaments – in 2015, three brothers started in two international friendlies against Hong Kong and Singapore: twins Alexander and Justin Lee [31-year-old defenders who both play for Christos FC] and their younger brother Nate Lee [27-year-old defender currently at FC Frederick]. All three were on Guam’s most recent roster for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and AFC Asian Cup China 2023™ Asian Qualifiers. Other brothers who’ve featured on the international stage together within the past decade include Shawn [32-year-old defender or defensive midfielder] and Travis Nicklaw [27-year-old defender or forward playing for Chattanooga Red Wolves] (Shawn assisted younger brother Travis’ eventual game-winning goal against India in arguably Guam’s most popular match in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ and AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019™ Joint Preliminary Qualification Round 2), and Marlon and Sean Evans [23-year-old midfielder and 21-year-old goalkeeper both at Bank of Guam Strykers]. Likewise, the Guam Women’s national team, also known in international circles as the “Masakåda” also has had many sisters feature together on the international stage.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Guam currently?
It’s difficult to choose – aside from Jason Cunliffe, the team also features a mix of players from as young as 17, with a handful of intercollegiate players and professional players, mostly in the United States. One of the team’s goalkeepers, Dallas Jaye, has long been part of Guam’s national program and made his debut for the senior team in 2012 in an international friendly match against the Philippines in the Philippines. He currently plays for the Greenville Triumph in USL League One and is a two-time USL League One Goalkeeper of the Year award winner (2019, 2020).
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
The current national team is working into a transitional phase, with a mix of many young players under 20 years old filling in positions on the pitch with a handful of experienced players. In Round 2 of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and AFC Asian Cup China 2023™, Guam unfortunately did not win any matches, but many young players made their debut for Guam or earned their first starting 11 selection during this campaign and impressed coaches and fans.
Q. Are there any Guamanian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
There are many up-and-coming players to choose from – of the squad that played in the recent Round 2 matches of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and AFC Asian Cup China 2023™, one player is Leon Morimoto [left-back, midfielder], who made his debut against China PR on May 30, 2021. He’s currently 19 turning 20 this year and trains in Argentina with CA Temperley. Other players on the same roster include Marlon Evans, Devan Mendiola [22-year-old midfielder at Rovers FC], Clayton Sato [21-year-old forward at NCAA Division II side San Francisco State Gators], and Kyle Halehale [19-year-old midfielder currently at Hartford City] coming up the ranks. Not featured on the most recent roster, but coming out of Guam’s U19 national team roster from 2018, is Jacob McDonald [20-year-old forward], who hasn’t yet played at the senior level but may make his debut very soon.
Q. Looking at Guam’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
The most popular match would arguably be Guam’s 2-1 win over India in 2015 in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ and AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019™ Joint Preliminary Qualification Round 2 held in Guam. Guam’s team was featured in many international publications for its feat, with many of the publications highlighting the population disparity between the two teams – over a billion people in India versus 168,000 in Guam. The win against India came 5 days after Guam’s 1-0 win over Turkmenistan and put Guam at the top of the group after the June 2015 matches. The two wins lifted Guam to its highest-ever FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking at No. 146 in the world in August and September 2015. In September 2015, Guam also drew 0-0 with Oman in Guam to keep its undefeated streak at home alive in the qualification round.
Also notable is Guam’s largest win over a FIFA member nation which was achieved in 2019 – a 5-0 win over Bhutan in FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and AFC Asian Cup China 2023™ Asian Qualifiers Round 1 Playoff. Captain Jason Cunliffe scored his first international hat-trick against a FIFA member nation in that match. One other match would be the first time Guam defeated Chinese Taipei in 2013 during the AFC Challenge Cup Qualification Round in Myanmar. Guam won 3-0 in the match. Chinese Taipei was awarded a penalty kick in the closing minutes of the match and goalkeeper substitute Dallas Jaye stopped the penalty kick to keep Guam’s clean sheet.
- AFC’s Highlights of Guam vs. Bhutan from 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYtBAi8qcqo
Before these matches, Guam’s first-ever win over a FIFA member nation was in 2009 against Mongolia in that year’s EAFF tournament. Guam later went on to win its second match against a FIFA member nation in 2011 against American Samoa in that year’s Pacific Games. In 2012, Guam defeated Macau for the first time during that year’s EAFF tournament, and again the same year in the Philippines Football Peace Cup.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
It’s difficult to determine a particular result or match. After Guam gained FIFA membership in 1996, the team’s first few matches featured unfavorable results, but learning experiences for the team. The team lost in double digits in its first-ever foray into FIFA World Cup qualification in 2000, but 15 years later, won its first two matches in that year’s round of FIFA World Cup qualification.
- AFC’s Highlights of Maldives vs. Guam from 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPzmF27ZaOg
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Guamanian national team?
The best thing about being a fan of the national team is that a good number of players reside in Guam and are around football in Guam in different capacities such as coaching – either as a licensed coach with the GFA, or as volunteer coaches for clubs or schools. Fans can regularly see them around Guam and interact with them. One of the challenges (I wouldn’t use the term ‘worst‘) about being a fan of the national team is arguably that they travel mostly for international competition across several time zones. It’s not uncommon to watch their matches late at night in Guam or early morning online via Internet Live Stream. In the most recent FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and AFC Asian Cup China 2023™ Asian Qualifiers Round 2 play, Group A’s centralized venue moved from China to UAE. Although the team’s matches kicked off at 6 p.m. in UAE, this was midnight +1 day in Guam. Additionally, many fans request to purchase Guam national jerseys, but Guam national jerseys currently are not available yet as merchandise. Instead, fans wear Matao spirit shirts or sport the official Matao scarf when supporting the team.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
Before training sessions and matches, Guam’s national teams recite what’s called the Inifresi. The Inifresi is a pledge to preserve, protect, and promote the language and culture unique to Guam. It can be very emotional for players and fans when the Inifresi is recited. It is proudly recited in the indigenous language, Chamorro.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
One of the most iconic shirts was the team’s customized kit used in the latter matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ and AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019™ Joint Preliminary Qualification Round 2 that featured red and blue colors similar to the Guam flag, with the Guam seal featured on the front side and the image as seen from Chief Gadao’s cave on the backside of the shirt (also used in the Matao logo). Chief Gadao was an ancient Chamorro chief from southern Guam who was known for his strength.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Guamanian national team?
Just like the players, I hope to one day see Guam play in the FIFA World Cup Final Round. As FIFA expands the number of teams competing in the final round, many countries will feature for the first time and so, why not Guam one day? Hopefully, more and more young players will be inspired to take up the sport professionally, eventually come back to the national program, and continue to contribute to the development of the team and program.
A massive si yu’os ma’åse’ to Jill for answering our questions on the Matao. Remember you can find their excellent account in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at email@example.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.