UFL Game Day, January 28, 2011

I had to chaperone my Aunts on their visit here in Manila, and while waiting for them to finish their shopping/sightseeing, I decided to drop by the Rizal Memorial Stadium to watch the UFL Games. I couldn’t watch them on TV, so might as well watch the games live.

Attendance was pretty fair, I think there were about a thousand people in the stands. Attendance improved in the second game by a couple more hundred people. Good thing I was able to sit in the lower grandstand, the ones colored Blue, and had backrests. I wished all the seats at the RMS was like this, they should replace all those backless yellow seats with ones like these.

I was only able to catch the second half of the game between Philippine Air Force Phonix FC and Philippine Navy Fritz and Macoil FC, and the first half of the Loyola Meralco Sparks FC and Stallions Gilligans FC. Not all of the action, but enough to have a solid observation of the games and the teams.

‘Philippine Air Force Phoenix FC beats Philippine Navy Fritz and Macoil, 2-1’
Most of the goals were scored in the first half, and one followed in the second half. It was an ugly game in the second half, the players were throwing the balls all over the place. It was actually kinda sad to watch, just players throwing the ball back and forth on both ends of the pitch, with rarely making a decent run at the goal.

There were no steady build up, or consistent good crosses or long balls. It was as if they were only relying on chance (or ‘tsamba’) to score goals. Very uncharacteristic for a UFL champion like Air Force. In fact, I can only remember one decent shot on goal in the second half, when Air Force made a good cross from inside the box on the right side which another AF player shot and bounced off the Goalkeeper.

Frankly, I can’t even remember how Philippine Army scored its second goal in the second half. About the only other memorable thing I remember was how rabid some of Philippine Army’s fans can be. They looked like family/relatives/friends of the Army, with them constantly harrassing the lineman on their side. Everytime the lineman made a decision awarding the ball to Air Force, somebody behind me would shout, “Kulang ka pa sa siminar, Ref!!! Mag siminar ka pa!!!”.

A lady harassed the players, like when Air Force Striker Ian Araneta lost possession one time, she shouted, “Azkal naagawan!!! Azkal naagawan!!!” And another funny moment: Army Goalkeeper Eduard Sacapano shouting to the ball girls, “Bula, bula!!!” while asking for the ball during an out of bounds play …

‘Stallions Gilligans FC upsets Loyola Meralco Sparks FC, 4-1’
Stallions is supposed to be a promoted team, but I think you can really consider them more as an “expansion” team, because the UFL Division 1 expanded from seven to ten teams this season. I remember the Stallions more for their rough tactics in the 2011 UFL Cup than anything else, but this UFL League they are making their mark not only as a team on the rise, but perhaps THE team to beat in this league. This “promoted” team first upset the 2011 UFL Cup champion Philippine Air Force Phoenix FC by a large margin, 3-1. And now they rout a highly regarded team in the Loyola Sparks.

After seeing them play, their main strength definitely lies in their South Korean players. In fact, this team doesn’t play like a Filipino team, they play like one of those major Asian teams, and that means spot on long ball passes, and spot on crosses. They play as the IDEAL Football team, relying on speed and excellent passing to score goals. I feel that with this type of play, Stallions-Gilligans FC has raised the bar for Philippine Football, and it is now up to the local teams to catch up, if they can. They should be, anyway, if not sooner (hopefully) then later (might take years).

While the Stallions were relying on textbook Football and teamwork, the Sparks, on the other hand, were relying more on the individual talents of the Younghusbands and Mark Hartmann to try to “punch” or muscle their way thru on offense. And initially, it looked promising for them when Phil Younghusband was able to capitalize on a mistake by the Stallions defense to score the opening goal. However, from the start of the game, the Stallions were making unbelievable runs based on accurate long balls or build up plays, and also were making unbelievable crosses into the box that even after the Sparks’ opening goal, I sort of felt that it was only a matter of time before the Stallions equalize, and take the lead.

And they did. Their goals were not from capitalizing on defensive mistakes, or lucky long range shots: Their goals were from excellent crosses from the flanks. So even before the first half ended, they were able to take the lead 2-1. I later learned from the Facebook pages that they scored another two goals in the second half to complete the rout.

For the Sparks, they have to realize that individual talent won’t make it anymore, at least not as far as the championship is concerned. They have to learn how to play like the Stallions, and that means retaining the ball, good accurate passes and crosses.

The South Korean invasion is now in full force in the UFL. I noticed the Stallions’ number 19 player, a Right Midfielder who is South Korean, since he was on nearest side where I was sitting. That guy has EXCELLENT ball retention, matched with EXCELLENT crosses. He fueled the Stallions’ offense in the first half with those crosses. We don’t have a local player like that, someone who can both retain the ball well even in the opponent’s box, and make those great crosses from the flanks.

After the Stallions equalized, I saw James Younghusband shouting, pleading and showing his frustration to their backline, and even to his coach. But to no avail.

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