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.

2016 UFL Cup Final Preview: Ceres-La Salle FC vs Global FC

Photo from United Football League Philippines (www.uflph.com)

CER: Manny Ott, Sang Min Kim, Louie Michael Casas
GLO: Serge Kaole, Daisuke Sato, Milan Nikolic

Key Match-ups:
Manny Ott v Matt Hartmann
Sang Min Kim v Omid Nazari
Patrick Reichelt v Daisuke Sato
Adrian Gallardo v Milan Nikolic

Suspensions: None

Manny Ott slayed the midfield of Tampines Rovers leaving his counterparts with no choice but to be extra physical with the Azkals midfielder. Sang Min’s consistent play has earned him the captains badge this season. His presence in the middle makes it difficult for opponents to win battles in the air and his length allows him to make impossible tackles. Casas has been on a tear lately, bringing his team to the final with his timely saves.

Kaole is the man of the hour. His performance in the quarterfinals as a a substitute earned him a start and a goal in the semifinals. Sato has been playing his best after his return from Japan, carrying it over to the Global and the Azkals. Nikolic’s composure and presence in the middle has been the reason for Global having the best defense this UFL Cup.

Ceres had a fine performance in the semifinal except for the except for avoidable defensive errors that cost them goals. They have corrected this in the AFC cup where they only conceded a goal from a pretty wicked deflection. The Bacolod-squad will only be less than four days removed from their AFC Cup tie and their fitness may be in question. They have however pulled off two wins from competitive matches which gives them the momentum in this match-up.

The Leyte FA squad are well rested having ten games off from UFL Cup action and will be favorites if the game extends to more than ninety minutes. Their Jekyll and Hyde offense this cup season must come-alive in order to bag the Cup. Global has never conceded more than one goal in this tournament. A key stat that has kept them afloat when their offense have betrayed them in some games.

Advantage: Global FC

2016 UFL Cup Quarterfinals Preview

Stallion FC vs Green Archers FC

Players to watch:
STA: Jordan Mintah, Fitch Arboleda, Balot Doctora
GAU: Chieffy Caligdong, Gary Epesso, Lee Joo Young

Jordan Mintah is still a reliable goal scoring machine and together with new attacking options in Josh Beloya and Ashley Flores, Stallion will be a different animal to match up with in the quarterfinals. Chieffy Caligdong is leading the way for the Archers as the team’s spark plug, ably supported by influential players such as Garry Epesso and Lee Joo Young. Lee has been playing a more central role, far from his usual wing role while Epesso is the new target man filling in for the spot vacated by Rober Lopez-Mendy.

Stallion has breezed through the competition, topping Group A with an unblemished record of five wins and zero losses. The Gilligans-backed squad had their toughest challenge in the first week against Kaya, scoring a slim 1-0 victory. After which, they completed the eliminations with big wins against lesser squads.

The Archers meanwhile had a difficult elimination round having to face Ceres, Global, and Loyola in the group of death. The Green and White squad would often perform very well in the first hour but would fade in the end allowing their tormentors to snatch the wins from them. This was evident in the games against the higher seeded teams.

Both squads have been the standard bearers for homegrown player development the past two years allowing local talents to shine in the UFL. Stallion has the edge with a more youthful core while the Archers considered the veteran squad. If the Archers can keep up for a full ninety, they can steal this game and move on to the next round. With a long break from tough competition, Stallion FC just needs the correct fitness and focus to progress to the semifinals.

Advantage: Stallion FC


Loyola FC vs Kaya FC

Players to watch:
LMS: Alvaro Castiella, Jason de Jong, James Younghusband
KAY: Robert Lopez-Mendy, Aly Borromeo, OJ Porteria

Castiella is a phenomenal signing for the Sparks scoring plenty of goals in the group stages.  De Jong is his usual tenacious self providing the coverage and physicality in the midfield.  James Younghusband has been a true captain in the eliminations after filling in on key positions for his team.  Lopez-Mendy has been on a tear in the UFL Cup group stages but his team has learned to play better without him in the UFL Cup.  Aly Borromeo has been silently working his way to goals even as a centerback while Porteria has been on point this season with his shooting and passing.

Loyola came into the Cup knowing full well that the extent of their pre-season injuries would force them to field an untested side. This however was a blessing in disguise as it allowed unknown gems like Kou Belgira to flourish while the team slowly recovered from injuries. The Meralco-backed squad still relied heavily on experienced players like De Jong, Castiella, and James to get the desired results.

Kaya was also a team-in-transition similar to Loyola. The LBC-backed squad started a youth movement with their acquisitions and the weaker Group A allowed these players to familiarize themselves more with their teammates. This was evident in their AFC Cup performances where Kaya has grown overnight and now have six points to show in the first three games.

Loyola has the chance to snatch a win if they get most of their injured players in full fitness including Phil Younghusband who has logged zero game minutes this year.  Kaya though has the clear advantage in this matchup after scoring wins against Asian squads even without Lopez-Mendy and Louis Clark who’s still recovering from an injury.

Advantage: Kaya FC


JP Voltes FC vs Global FC

Players to watch:
JPV: Masaki Yanagawa, Yu Hoshide, Takashi Odawara
GLO: Omid Nazari, Matthew Hartmann, Daisuke Sato

Yanagawa has been dominating for JP Voltes this season.  After a move from Global with Yu Hoshide, he has been controlling the back while scoring goals for his squad.  Hoshide has been pulling the strings in the group stages as both midfielder and playing coach. Odawara is clearly the team’s best offensive player partnering well with Hoshide to score convincing wins for the Japan-Philippines team.

Newcomer Omid Nazari has shown quality over the group stages and was dangerous together with Matt Hartmann on the attack.  Sato has returned from his Japan trial along with renewed quality and fitness.  His return has made an impact after his team started out slow in this competition.

JP Voltes has won games convincingly against other teams but has clearly struggled against the top clubs in Kaya and Stallion.  Global has been on a tear after beating Ceres convincingly in their final group match.  The renewed hunger from Global makes them hard to beat especially in the money stages.

Advantage: Global FC


Ceres-La Salle FC vs Forza FC

Players to watch:
CER: Adrian Gallardo, Stephan Shrock, Martin Steuble
FOR: Arvin Gaspe, Kyul Park, Rhon Reyes

2015 UFL League topscorer, Adrian Gallardo has been on a spree lately scoring big goals in the AFC Cup.  Shrock has been as good as advertised while Steuble has on point this season for the Bacolod-based club.  Local Boys Gaspe and Reyes have shown that they are threats while Park has been the consistent bright spot for the Alabang club.

Forza has been lucky to reach the quarterfinals as both of their wins came from opponents’ mistakes such as the own-goal win against Agila MSA and the default of Laos FC.  Ceres will have the luxury to rest their players for the long grind ahead as the knockout stages will only last for eight days.

Advantage: Ceres-La Salle FC

All Photos are courtesy of the United Football League (www.uflph.com)

2016 UFL Cup Match Week 4

Things have settled in Match week 4 of the 2016 UFL Cup and the results provided plenty of talking points in the Philippines’ first club tournament this year.

Ceres-La Salle FC 3 – 2 Green Archers United FC

After coming off a tough 2-2 draw against Selangor, Coach Ali Go opted to rotate his players against the Archers featuring a different starting eleven. The Archers meanwhile where parading stand-in coach in Hans-Peter Smit.  The DLSU mentor stood in for Coach Rodolfo Alicante and Team Manager Monchu Garcia who were both unavailable.  Ceres as expected were controlling possession and shots but the Archers were in keen on getting a result to improve their standings for the quarterfinals.  The result however was not in their favor as Chieffy Caligdong’s deficit-cutting goal was not enough.  The Archers will be facing top seed Kaya in the quarterfinals while Ceres will take on surprise quarterfinalists Forza in a month’s time.

JP Voltes FC 0 – 4 Kaya FC

After succumbing to a soft penalty in Hong Kong, the reigning champions turned their ire to the upstarts in JP Voltes. Coach Chris Greatwich stuck to his AFC Cup eleven, a full change to his experiments in the previous games.  Kaya came out swinging and the Japanes-Filipino team just couldn’t keep up. JP Voltes missed their starting centerbacks in Camelo Tacusalme and Masaki Yanagawa to various reasons and it showed in the game.  Voltes leaked four goals far from their 1-2 performance against the group leading Stallion.

Loyola FC 0 – 2 Global FC

It seems like the new look Global squad is already settling in and it showed against Loyola. Newcomers in Kofi Kouassi, Milan Nikolic, Serge Kaole, and Omid Nazari are fitting in well with the mainstays en route to the win.  The Sparks however are just trying to get their gears back after a wave of injuries have hit the team at the start of the cup.  The orange men are awaiting the return of Simon Greatwich and Phil Younghusband who are expected to suit up in their final group match.  Global played with urgency against Loyola, unlike their first three games where they seemed to be uninterested at most times.  The return of talismanic defender Daisuke Sato may have had a positive  effect to the squad.  The Azkals player is one of the leaders in the squad and his presence may have rubbed off the right way.

Forza FC 1 – 9 Stallion FC

Stallion Coach Ernie Nierras shuffled his squad allowing players like GK Andrew Tan and Bo Bae Park to start the match. Forza meanwhile still had most of their bench playing in the UAAP and stuck with the same first eleven.  The Alabang squad were unlucky to lose their starting keeper after a red card which meant that Stallion were gonna run away as winners. The Gilligans-backed squad is expected to top group A arranging a quarterfinal showdown with Green Archers.

Nomads FC 0 -4 Pasargad FC

In a battle of the bottom teams in a stacked Group B, Pasargad finally earned a deserving win in this years UFL Cup.  Scoring against Loyola was a mean feat and Pasargad finally had the chance to strut their stuff.  Mohammed Camara may have scored the goals but their most exciting player in Jangobah “Magic” Johnson is someone to watch out for if they join the league.  Nomads passed on their final chance for a win in this tournament, a tournament that they should forget.  Playing against the big boys is tough and having a developmental team in tow may cause more harm than good to the young players.

Agila MSA FC 1 – 1 Laos FC

The result meant that both teams are eliminated from the quarterfinals.  Agila was particularly impressive in this UFL Cup as they have shown discipline against the tougher teams in most parts of the games.  Laos was a disappointment in this tournament, highlighted by their defaulted match against Forza.  Gone was the magic in winning Division 2 last year and the transfer window this April will be their only chance to make amends.

2016 UFL Cup: Goal-fest in UFL Cup Second Weekend

The second week of the 2016 UFL Cup may not have been as explosive and competitive as the first one but it left plenty of things to talk about in the first competition in Philippine Club football for the year.

Global FC 2-1 Green Archers United FC

The Green Archers came out as the aggressor in the match, coming up with the well-deserved opening goal.  Chieffy Caligdong and company pressed the offensive which resulted in the opening goal by Gary Epesso.

Global were flat at the start and didn’t have the energy to match the Archers onslaught.  Things changed, however, when the Archers took on injuries that forced substitutions of their key players.  Matt Hartmann scored a delightful free kick which highlighted Global’s desperation for an equalizer.  It wasn’t until injury time that Arthur Kouassi struck to hand Global the win and prevent an upset.

However, Kouassi’s efforts may be in vain as Global lined-up 6 foreign players during the match, violating the 5-foreign player limit rule that was agreed upon by all teams before the start of the competition. It is an oversight that could very well cost them the game and three points on the board.

JP Voltes FC 2-1 Forza FC

JP Voltes were the favorites in this match after a good performance last week but the tag was tested early on when Lionel Ndoe Mekong scoring the opener for Forza.  But it was Masaki Yanagawa who used his head when it mattered most and score two goals in each half to give Voltes the lead.  The match was extremely entertaining as both squads got their fair share of chances in goal but the Japanese-Filipino side came out as winners in this tiff.

Pasargad FC 1-7 Loyola Meralco Sparks FC

Loyola arrived with guns blazing, eager to bounce back from their last-minute loss against League champions Ceres-La Salle in the previous week. Alvaro Castiella and Taj Minniecon were on fire early teaming up with midfielders Kou Belgira and Jason De Jong building up spectacular goals in the process.

Down 4-nil, Pasargad managed to get a goal back when a good counter-attacking combination rewarded them a goal thru John De Castro, who finished well on the break.  Another three goals in the second half did it for Loyola who secured their first win in the Cup.  Interestingly, Loyola only had three substitutes on the bench due to suspensions and the ongoing UAAP Tournament.

Team Captain James Younghusband started as centerback to replace Adam Mitter who got a red card in the previous match against Ceres.

Stallion FC 4-0 Agila-MSA FC

Though the scoreline flatters Stallion, Agila made a gallant stand against the perennial contender. Agila played quite well only allowing a solitary goal in the span of eighty minutes.  The MSA team were disciplined defensively, denying the completion of Stallion’s lovely buildup plays. Goalkeeper Bitoy Rosalia and substitute keeper Rolando Cabaniero gave good accounts of themselves as they were on point in manning the sticks. Rosalia even saved a penalty and a follow-up to deny a goal.

Stallion’s persistence was rewarded in the final ten minutes after a flurry of goals from substitutes Bo Bae Park and Jay Soberano increased the lead to three. Jordan Mintah put icing on the cake with an injury time goal.

Nomads FC 0-15 Ceres-La Salle FC

Ceres was on a mission and Nomads was just unlucky to be in their way.  The League champions came out with renewed vigor after barely escaping Loyola in injury time the previous week.  Scoring aside, the Bacolod-squad’s passing  and timing were much better compared to their previous game, allowing them to generate plenty of goal scoring chances all throughout the match.

Kaya FC 6-1 Laos FC

Coach Chris Greatwich used a different starting eleven, just like what he did their opening match against Stallion. This game saw then substitutes Louis Clark, OJ Porteria, Miguel Tanton, Janrick Soriano, and Aly Borromeo starting the match, a move which may be viewed as tactical preparation for their upcoming AFC Cup opener.

Robert Lopez Mendy was all over, scoring the first goal and then retaking the lead just before halftime. Laos played the counter well — Hamed Hajimahdi delivered the perfect cross that was finished well by Aaron Altiche.  Kaya found the back of the net twice more but a foul and an offside call nullified the supposed goals for the LBC-backed squad.

Big Opening Weekend for UFL Cup

By Ivan Geoffrey Gayares (@ivangeoffrey)

It was good as advertised.  With larger than average crowds and exciting games, Matchday 2 was the perfect second to what was the biggest opening weekend in the UFL Cup thus far.

Nomads FC 0-4 Green Archers United

Don’t let the final score fool you. Nomads FC, who consist of a few veterans and a lot of youth players, had an outstanding first half in their opening game.  Holding the Archers scoreless in the first half, Nomads were on point with their defense, even forcing a save during a first half penalty.  Newcomers Dalir Lord Jamal and Juan Sebastian Gonzales almost scored for the Merville-based side, keeping the Green Archers on their feet in the opening half.

The Archers paraded some new recruits, namely Gary Eppeso, Joo Yong Lee, Hossein Doustdarsefidmazgi, and former Nomads U19 player Matthew Custodio. The veteran squad were clearly in transition as passing and finishing on the final third were still suspect and the inability to get shots on target on several occasions arose.

A quick chat with Nomads skipper Eric Antoine revealed that the club is running on zero sponsorship and have veteran players playing pro-bono. Majority of the squad teenagers, however, did get much needed experience at a higher level of football.

The veteran Archers turned on the heat in the second half exploiting the gaps in the defense to score four goals to deflate Nomads FC. Former Loyola player Lee Joo Yong debuted in a more central role for the archers unlike his winger/striker duties in his two previous clubs. Eppeso was the like for like replacement for Robert Lopez Mendy who transferred to Kaya FC.  Team Captain and Man of the Match Chieffy Caligdong was his usual self, outwitting the Nomads defense to allow his teammates to pad the goals in their opening win.

Kaya FC 0-1 Stallion FC

It was new faces versus old reliables.  A retooled Kaya squad was on full display against a Stallion team showcasing the same core. It’s always tough to call this matchup as it has always been close.

Interestingly enough, playing coach Chris Greatwich started the match from the stands as he was suspended for a red card infraction in last years Final.  The coach opted to start with new faces such as former GAU Striker Robert Lopez Mendy, UFL Returnee Antonio Ugarte, ex-Loyola Spark Charlie Beaton, and newcomers Michael Acton and Sean Kane.  OJ Porteria, Louis Clark, and Miguel Tanton were on standby.

Stallion featured new signings: former Kaya player Joshua Beloya and newcomer Ernest Qorda. As expected, the match was intensely close, only for veteran Jordan Mintah to break the deadlock just before halftime. Kaya chased for an equalizer in the second half but Stallion were equal to the task.

Loyola FC 1-2 Ceres-La Salle FC

The Bacolod squad featured new signings, Azkals Stephan Schrock and Kevin Ingreso, together with returnees Carlie de Murga and Adrian Gallardo. Schrock, who was probably the biggest name in the transfer period, brought with him his array of skills that made him the biggest crowd drawer this weekend.

Loyola, who were without injured players in Phil Younghusband, Simon Greatwich, and Joaco Canas, had some interesting players to start in their opener.  Unknowns Kou Belgira, Akira Miyayama, and striker Alvaro Castiella were mystery men in the game. Jason de Jong also started his first UFL game for Loyola.

Many emotions came into play with the goals in the match. De Murga scored his first goal after being injured in the final of the 2014 FA League Cup. The former Azkal was overcome with emotion after scoring on a rebound from a saved penalty, erasing frustrations from a gruesomely long recovery.

Former Pachanga-Diliman striker Jinggoy Valmayor came on as a substitute in the second half providing the equalizer for the Sparks.  The San Carlos Negros Occidental native jumped in jubilation rushing to hug his former UP teammates in the Loyola sidelines.  Valmayor and company very recently lost their former UP teammate Rogie Maglinas to complications due to cancer.

Another de Murga reaction from a set piece piece in injury time proved to be the difference as he completed his brace to punctuate his emphatic return.  Orman Okuinaya’s delivery from the cornerwas redirected by de Murga into the goal.

Biggest Opening Weekend

The opening weekend for this years UFL Cup featured a combined crowd of almost 3,000 for the two match days.  It’s a great start so far for the United Football League, especially given that the UAAP football tournaments also ran on the same play dates. — CAL

2016 UFL Cup: Matchday 1 Notes

By Ivan Geoffrey Gayares (@ivangeoffrey)

Philippine Club Football is back after a long hiatus. Matchday 1 was something of a prelude to Matchday 2, but the former also has a lot to offer adding more interesting plots in the first tournament of club football this year.

Forza FC 1 – 0 Agila MSC FC

Familiarity was a factor in the tightness of this match in a battle of former second division teams. The midfield was congested as both teams grappled for possession which led to very few chances for both. Agila had the upper hand in half chances but both teams struggled to put in the finishing to get the edge in the first half.

The second half was pretty much the same except for the own goal by Agila which could easily have been avoided. Credit to Forza for forcing a winner with their persistence but they still have a lot to work on in order to get a higher seed by the end of the group stage.

Pasargad FC 0 – 7 Global FC

A hastily formed team versus a toughened Division One contender is nothing but a death sentence and the first blow came just after a few minutes. An unmarked Izzo Elhabib had the luxury of time to slot home the opener. Global was relentless, scoring three more goals to end the half with a 4-0 scoreline.

The result was already undisputed which allowed both teams to show off their creativity.  Global showed tremendous team work which led to three more goals while Pasargad’s bright spot was their diminutive striker Jangobah Johnson who ran around the Global midfield and at one time nutmegged Misagh Bahadoran.

Global’s new signing Omid Nazari was a revelation. Scoring a hat trick in his debut makes him the incumbent top scorer in the Cup, all of which is additional to his passing and great awareness up front.  His performance came as a pleasant surprise as he was reported to have missed most of Global’s training camp in Baguio after succumbing to food poisoning.

The rest of Global were their usual selves playing their own brand of football leading to Hikaru Minigeshi’s brace and a goal from defender Dennis Villanueva. Global has shown their quality even without the injured Mark Hartmann and new signing Milan Nikolic who served a suspension carried over from his previous game at his old club.  The Leigh Manson-mentored squad has yet to face quality opposition but this win have put them as one of the clear favorites to win the Cup.

JP Voltes FC 3 – 0 Laos FC

Everyone thought that match would be even until JP Voltes proved otherwise.  The retooled newly-promoted squad surprised everyone with their consistency in defense and discipline in attack to complete a convincing win against the recent Second Division League champions.

Laos FC, who stuck with their core, were the slight favorites coming into the match but the addition of experienced players to JP Voltes from Global, Ceres, and Pachanga-Diliman added a new flavor to the team.

Their best player though was mainstay Takashi Odawara who scored the opener with a beautiful volley from the corner and provided the assist to William (Gueridon) Espinosa’s goal. The Japanese player was instrumental in setting up the attack and picking out the gaps in Laos’ defense.  The match was pretty even in the middle but the JP Voltes defense shone especially with their new centerbacks Masaki Yanagawa and Camelo Tacusalme.

It was a disappointing start for Laos who mostly had good build up sequences only to fail at their finishing and who were ultimately punished for gaps in their defense.