Disparity in the UFL

It doesn’t look pretty. For casual observers and outsiders it seems absurd, criminal even. Double-digit scorelines and almost half-century goal differences abound. The Philippines’ “premier football league” has been taking some slack since day one. But its worth revisiting the context of why this happened this season.

A Look Back

It seems such a long time ago when Philippine Army FC was the first club to drop out from the league in 2015. The Armed Forces outfit took on a Korean partner whose money ran out just before the first round break. With resources virtually non-existent (a norm in Philippine football) and with unpaid participation fees, the club was disqualified from the league. They were the first out the door but they weren’t the last. Manila Jeepney and Pachanga-Diliman also had to leave for their own reasons after the season.

The second division also had problems of its own. With two of its top teams — Laos and JP Voltes — promoted, there were no teams left in the second tier of the league. Laguna Kabuscorp was a fluke, Team Socceroo took a pause, Army was already out, and Mendiola was a one-time thing. Only three teams were left and it didn’t deserve to be called a second division. Nomads showed up late in 2015 which made it a 4-team possibility.

A Decision Had To Be Made

With 8 teams in the first division and 4 in the second, there was an urgent need to reinforce the lower division. An open invitation was sent out but none replied. Without more teams, the second division could not stand alone. It was decided that both divisions would be merged.

It wasn’t an easy decision. League executives knew very well the gap between teams and deliberated heavily on the pros and cons. The professionals and the amateurs. The haves and the have-nots. But in the end they didn’t have much choice. They couldn’t turn away from the second div teams. Most of them are pioneers of the league, they also deserved a piece of the action.

The Season

The league was abuzz at the transfer window. Promotees were bulking up. Laos had good names moving in, same with JP Voltes. Agila revamped their team with UAAP finalists. Pasargad had a partnership with another club that showed promise. Nomads had some players lined up to make a difference.

The gap was still there, but the changes gave some glimmer of hope, hope that the gap would be reduced come kickoff. The stage was set. It was time to play. Week one passed and we saw Kaya score ten over Laos and a no-show by Agila. For two consecutive weeks we saw Kaya and Ceres winning by double digits. Ceres won by a 16-goal margin.

In context it was acceptable. The weaker teams earn little or no salary at all. The bigger teams pay a lot more. The scoreline was predictable. It is also worthwhile to note that some of these teams had luck escape them in the first round. The game changing players of Laos never showed up and the Pasargad partnership failed. It was game-time decision for some clubs to see if they could even complete a starting eleven. It’s disappointing, but it happens.

So What’s Next

The league break is upon us and the transfer window is at hand. Other teams can still reinforce their clubs, some might even reconsider their participation based on their abysmal performances. Right now, its still business-as-usual. The league will continue as planned from August to October. The lessons, well, they can be used for next year’s league, if it happens. The National League may or may not start in 2017, but that in itself is a whole other story.

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