Hours spent on the pitch and sneaking off to play soccer paid off for Michael Castaneda. The 2020 John F. Kennedy graduate committed to Muskingum University during a recent signing ceremony.

A member of the Guam Youth National Team and the John F. Kennedy High School Islanders, Castaneda is fueled by motivation to be the best and pushing himself to work harder than everyone else. The 18-year-old has come a long way from a 12-year-old youth combing the internet for Cristiano Ronaldo. Mimicking the international star’s style of play was a passion, Castaneda said, adding it wasn’t just Ronaldo that he watched.

“I started playing outside in the streets and tried to mimic every skilled player out there and be better than them,” Castaneda said.

Soccer kept him on the straight and narrow, he said, adding “I was never good in academics but I kept grades up just for me to play the sport I love.”

The dedication paid off, however, and Castaneda took a huge step toward a dream he’s had since he started kicking the ball around.

“Extending my career for futbol is a big step for me because I’ve dreamt of becoming one of the best players in the world, so I thrive for opportunities,” said Castaneda, who dreamed of being MVP every year and worked toward that goal every time.. “I picked Muskingum (Ohio) because I think it is a perfect fit for me when it comes to school and the futbol team.”

The Muskingum University Fighting Muskies compete in the NCAA Division 3 Ohio Athletic Conference. Castaneda plans to major in athletic training/health and fitness.

When asked how he will fit in with the Muskingum game scheme, Castaneda, who was one of the captains of the green-and-gold Islanders, was confident he would hit a groove quickly.

“I’m very confident that I’ll fit in their playing style because I adapt easily,” he said. “I love to be in fast-pace attacking and score goals to help the team win.”

Since the quarantine in March, Castaneda has been training with local soccer standouts Kyle Halehale and Micah Hennegan – both of whom play on the national team and compete collegiately.

Staying in shape and sharpening his skills were key to upping his game, he said.

His impact on the team

While Castaneda downplays his role on the team, looking more at his impact on the field and game play, his coaches said it was his quest for improvement and game knowledge that made him into the player he is today.

His coach for the JFK Islanders commended his growth as Castaneda made the transition from high school to Division I soccer in the local leagues.

“Mike’s come a long way as a soccer player. He had to work his way up to get more playing time. It could be a starting position for JFK or our D1 club team, IFC Islanders,” coach Eladio Manansala said. “He worked hard every practice and would push his teammates when they’re slowing down.”

His leadership and mentorship of the younger athletes on the team made him indispensable, Manansala said.

JFK’s Manansala attributes Castaneda’s growth to his mindset, his drive to improve and his ability to seek answers and get advice on every aspect of his game.

“Besides being a hard worker, he was always looking for ways to improve. He would always ask questions about his performance after a game or why he was replaced. He always had the skills and work ethic, he just needed guidance in putting it all together,” Manansala said. “I was really happy for him when he finally made the national team. Now he’s taking it to another level in college. I’m proud of him for pushing hard and for never giving up.”

His U16 coach for Rovers, Jack Kido, said the overall evolution of Castaneda is something to admire.

“He has gone from a player who thought he could do it alone to one who has learned to include and support his team and teammates with game plays,” Kido said. “Michael continues to learn and evolve in the sport. I wish him well and hope for his success in college and the future.”

Sang Hoon Kim, Guam Football Association technical director, commended Castaneda’s character and the leadership he brought to the U20 team.

“Michael is a role model for the U20 National Team with his technical ability in football, as well as his positive mentality. When he is finally at college, I want him to adapt to his team as soon as possible and to always perform at his best,” Kim said via press release. “I am very proud of Michael and that he is joining a college soccer program. … His parents have been working really hard for him, and I would like to thank his parents and family for their support on behalf of GFA.”

The impact on the field

Castaneda, who was born in the Republic of Korea, moved to Guam the latter part of his eighth grade year, attending F.B. Leon Guerrero Middle School, and developed an interest in playing the sport professionally.

“I have passion for this sport – a big passion, and my ultimate goal is to be the best player in the world. (This opportunity for me) is a step closer to becoming professional,” the Tamuning resident said, emphasizing his desire to get better. While many athletes say that, Castaneda has the work ethic and drive to push himself higher each time he reaches a goal, his coaches have said.

Castaneda played in both the Aloha Maid Minetgot Cup Elite Youth League and the Budweiser Soccer League Premier Division, featuring for the Tigers, Quality Distributors, NAPA Rovers, Islanders FC, and Manhoben Lalahi in different seasons.

In Castaneda’s freshman year at JFK, the Islanders captured the boys high school soccer title and again in 2018, while also making finals appearances in 2017 and 2019. In November 2019, Castaneda traveled with the Guam U19 National Team to Vietnam for the Asian Football Confederation U19 Championship Qualifier.

A look back

Looking back, Castaneda said, joining soccer and discovering a passion for the pitch changed his outlook on life.

“The benefits I got for playing high school is that I become more wise and learned more about futbol,” he said. “Because of coach Manansala and my fellow teammates – they’ve helped me improve my physical and mental game.”

Playing soccer and representing the school and his island with pride made him stronger and wiser, he said, adding he learned to become independent and have faith in his work ethic.

“I wanted to be noticed as one of the best on Guam, but I never achieved that,” he said. “I wanted to be an MVP every year but never achieved it.”

“I’ve faced some tough challenges and I had downfalls from not getting playing time to getting cut from nationals,” he said. “I’ve overcome everything by working hard every day and make sure I achieve everything.”

Castaneda said he used to wake up every morning at 4 a.m., locked in on his physical shape. Running a loop from Home Depot in Tamuning to the Harmon Sports Complex and doing body work were key, he said, as he was determined to make the next team or score the next goal.

“I would train myself with the ball at home and I would take every option of training if one of my coaches had a team training,” he said. “I would go to scrimmages from GFA to Naval Base to test my skills and physical stamina.”

Fueled by challenges and motivated to overcome them, Castaneda said, he believed he has the drive to accomplish whatever he wants.

“I love futbol because of the dream of becoming one of the best and just feeling the atmosphere of excitement and making a name for myself,” he said. “I would do anything to get better.”

He gives credit to all the people who made his journey a success.

“I would like to thank my coaches – coach Lad, coach Karl, coach Kido and all the coaches that helped me improve,” Castaneda said. “I would love to thank my teammates and friends for helping me stay motivated.”

He thanked his parents for “supporting me and loving me even though I was a troublemaker,” he said.

And, true to his nature, Castaneda threw out a last bit of thanks.

“Special thanks for myself for always having a great mindset because without me pushing myself, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

And, that’s why Castaneda has continued to achieve, knocking down barriers and setting higher goals for himself – with faith like that in his work, an insane desire to be the best bodes well for the young athlete as he heads to Ohio in search of his next dream.