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Looking back: The AFF Women’s Football Championship 2015

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Around three weeks ago, the Philippine National Women’s Football Team competed in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Women’s Football Championship staged in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. After three demanding matches, the Filipinas finished third in the group after notching a win and two defeats. Unfortunately, it was not enough to progress into the semifinals.

Three of the instrumental players in the squad are Joana Houplin, Jesse Shugg, and Inna Palacios. Based in the U.S. state of Washington, Houplin plays for the Issaquah Gunners in the Women’s Premier Soccer League. In the AFF Women’s Football Championship, the attack-minded athlete capable of playing midfielder and forward tallied three goals in the same number of games. Her overall record is even more impressive as she has scored 12 times in 11 matches while representing the Philippines. Houplin’s partner-in-crime, Jesse Anne Shugg, is a Canadian-born Filipina who just finished her tertiary studies and is also currently helping out as an assistant coach for the Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. She was responsible for three of the goals scored by the Philippine contingent in the competition, including one she scored on her birthday. Last but not the least is Inna Kristianne Palacios. The 21-year-old goalkeeper, who just played in her third year for De La Salle University, is a regular at international competitions. She has been to many tournaments in both the youth and senior levels and went to Vietnam as the team’s captain.

Not getting to play in the international football scene for almost two years, the three of them were as excited as everyone else, if not more, in the build-up of the tournament. Palacios joined the team from the start while Shugg arrived a few weeks later and was able to stay in the Philippines for a good week or so. Houplin joined the training camp just before the team embarked on a journey to Vietnam. “I was excited to meet the new coaching staff. I knew it would be a different experience prior to the other tournament I’ve done,” she said. For the first time, the women’s national football team was headed by a female in veteran coach Letecia “Buda” Bautista. Aiding her were former national team standouts Patrice Impelido and Marinelli “Let” Dimzon, both respected figures in Philippine women’s football. “She pushed us every day to work hard mentally and physically, which are both vital aspects in soccer,” Shugg added.

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Aside from the new coaching staff, most of the girls they played with were young girls who play domestically. Jo admitted that the team was inexperienced going into the tournament, but showed huge potential with most of them having excelled in the domestic tournaments at quite a young age. Palacios was familiar with most of the players in the pool as most of them came from UAAP, the league where she also participates in. As for Shugg, she felt a bit overwhelmed with the new faces, but blending in was not much of a problem. “We warmed up to each other within a day or two, and it became intense and fun training with them on and off the field,” she elaborated.

After leaving Manila for Ho Chi Minh, the first challenge they had to overcome was against the Malaysians. Not losing to them before, the Filipinas relished the opportunity to make the most out of their opening game. Taking the points, however, is always easier said than done primarily because the Philippines haven’t faced Malaysia recently. Yet in recalling the last times they squared off, the team entered into the match confident. “We knew we had a good chance to win this game. It was a good game to start the tournament with knowing that Myanmar and Vietnam were stronger,” Houplin noted.

The Philippines were dominant in the first half and had an unanswered 24th minute Jesse Shugg strike to take into the break. “It felt pretty good. I mean who doesn’t like to score goals, right? Plus it was my birthday so I was expecting to get a birthday goal for myself and the team,” Shugg said as she chuckles. With the match still far from settled, the Philippines needed at least one more to finish off the game. The unforgiving heat started to take a toll on everyone, but the dogged determination the Filipinas had was evident. “I think being in the lead is pretty important. Obviously it builds up your team’s confidence and spirit on the field which is uplifting and tends to make your team play better, but it’s too close for comfort. It’s more the second goal that I think is important because it puts you in a greater lead and dampers on the other team’s confidence and kind of vibe of their performance,” the birthday girl furthered. Another teammate, Pearl Aguilar, also celebrated her birthday together with Jesse and the rest of the team.

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After the interval, Houplin scored twice in the second half to make it a comfortable win in the end. “We were doing a better job of getting pressure on the first and second balls. Jesse played me a great through ball that beat the back line. All I had to do was time my run and slot it in the corner,” she narrated on her first two. For her second, all Jo had to do was to get in front of her marker the moment Shugg’s cross reached the target. They finished their first outing with a 3-0 victory. “I love playing with Jo because if I’m not scoring I sure know that she is! So when I’m able to create chances, I feel good knowing Jo is in there to finish them,” Jesse noted.

Undeniably, the whole team rejoiced in the dressing room. It meant taking one step towards clinching their goal–making it to the semifinals. All there needs to be done is to win one more and the game against one of the region’s most formidable teams: Myanmar. “It was a short-lived celebration after the game knowing we had two much tougher games ahead. Winning the first game gave us a little more confidence going into the next game,” Houplin told.

Indeed, the confidence they got from winning against Malaysia helped them in their battle with the Burmese. “We spoke in our pregame meeting and we knew it was not going to be easy, as we had a completely different team from two years ago, but we thought it’d be realistic to walk away with a win, which we almost did having held them up until half time at 1-0,” Shugg pointed out. A Houplin penalty strike at the 21st minute placed the Filipinas ahead of Myanmar. “I was confident in taking the PK and had no doubts I would score. I had practiced them prior in trainings, and was confident in my ability to put it away,” the goal-scorer declared. Afterwards, they did their best to stay in front by halftime. “It was just an amazing moment for me simply because we scored first and held them for the entire first half, but we were tired. Myanmar always had the ball and they would just keep on attacking. It was hard keeping up and it was just first half,” Inna recalled. Admitting it felt great to have won the half against a formidable opponent, the young goalkeeper grew wary by the time play was about to resume. “I was looking at everyone and we looked tired. I got worried because it’s hard to last a half with just your opponent attacking, and for us defending all the time,” she observed.

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The game finished with Myanmar scoring four second-half goals while also blanking the Filipinas. The defense did their best to protect their lead, but their opponents were just way superior to them in the closing half. It was natural for the players to feel dejected after losing a lead to their opponents but there was not much time left for them to stay sentimental. “We couldn’t dwell on the loss or else it might just eat us alive. I just had to reflect on the game and my thoughts of the ‘what ifs’ just happened but then again, we need to be mentally tough to set our insecurities, mistakes, losses out of our system for us to move forward with the team,” Palacios uttered.

In order to qualify, the girls playing for the Philippine flag needed to win by a minimum of seven goals against the group favorites and hosts Vietnam. Palacios narrated that the team went on to prepare for their next game as soon as a few hours after the Myanmar loss. “The team’s aura was always light and happy, and for me, that is very important. It means that despite the loss, we never forget how to still have fun playing. It’s like everyone just had a positive attitude,” she underlined. The team felt confident in facing the Vietnamese but have acknowledged that defeat will not be a shocking result if recent encounters were to be revisited. “We went into this tournament very last minute so the main focus on our team [after preparing for only a short period of time] was to not lose badly,” Jesse stated, arguing a longer preparation may have made the girls more equipped in battling Vietnam.

The home side made the most out of their chances by scoring four goals to lead the scoreless Filipinas at halftime. “It’s never a good feeling to lose and I hate losing, but you have to give credit to Vietnam, they are a strong team who scouted our weaknesses and exploited them,” Houplin remarked. “I had two good chances on goal and did not put them away. I knew it was going to be a tough game but knew I could get in behind their defense and create a few chances. I definitely should have put them away,” she went on to say frustratingly after going through the video file of the match. The Philippines appeared to have lost the match even before halftime but their resilient showing in the second half reduced the inflicted damage. Effectively keeping a clean sheet, the Filipinas ended their 2015 campaign with a 4-0 loss to Vietnam. “It’s hard playing a game knowing that it could be the last. I think that’s what held us from playing our game,” Palacios reckoned.

After the tournament, the trio assessed their performance quite fairly in the competition. Ranked the competition’s fifth best team, the Filipinas went as close as 45 minutes away from making the leap towards the semifinals—the goal set by Bautista prior to the squad’s departure for Vietnam. With the average age of the team slightly decreased, Palacios described the recent squad to be more enthusiastic as most of them experienced senior international football for the first time. “They always made sure that they were happy doing things. It’s not like they’re not serious and all, they’re serious when they have to, but most of the time they would just laugh and crack jokes to lighten the mood and to entertain the rest of the team. Basically, they always want to have fun,” she elaborated.

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The Philippines have been consistently finding themselves narrowly separated from the rest of the elite pack in Asia. It seems as if the state of women’s football in the country has reached a plateau waiting for a critical juncture to happen in order for them to get to the next level. Palacios believes continuity in the current program will foster a positive change in the team’s fortunes. Houplin, meanwhile, thinks that the unwavering support of the Federation should not only be with the current team. Rather, she also wishes for more girls to be exposed in football activities. “Women’s football in the Philippines needs to be better and we need to grow more local talent, and that needs to be done at a much younger age than what has been in the past.” The Seattle-based Filipina also stressed the importance of foreign-based players like her in the squad. “We do need more “Phil-foreigners” in the roster to strengthen the team. The experience that U.S. and Canadian based players have competing in youth, club, college, and semi-pro levels is something that cannot be replicated in the Philippines right now, hopefully in the future it will grow to the standard but we are far from that,” she conceded.

It may be a long time before the Philippines make it in the world stage in women’s football, but paving the way towards doing so as early as now is a good place to start. Surely, it will have an impact not only on the current players, but to a nation whose people are always striving to prove to make a difference in the world. These girls showed that the Philippines have what it takes to compete against current regional giants. Maybe given enough time and resources, they will be able to inspire not only fellow Filipinos as the world may also be able to witness what they are able to do on and off the pitch.

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Christian Standhardinger goes perfect from stripe in Hong Kong’s rout of Formosa

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After going a horrid 5-for-17 from the stripe during their first loss of the season last January 9, Christian Standhardinger made sure to make good on his free throws to power the Hong Kong Eastern Basketball Club to a dominant 99-79 rout of the Formosa Dreamers, Thursday evening in Southorn Stadium.

The 6-foot-8 Filipino-German, who tallied 37 points and 19 rebounds in the overtime loss to Saigon, went a perfect 9-for-9 from the foul line. He finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds.

The contest itself was not close, as the defending champions were able to impose their will on the bottom-ranked squad, leading by as much as 23 points, 93-70, after two free throws by Standhardinger with 2:58 remaining.

If Standhardinger was having a good day with his free throws, the entire Formosa squad could not say the same, going 13-of-27 from the line.

Tyler Lamb had 25 markers as well for Hong Kong, while Marcus Elliott grabbed a triple-double with 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Lenny Daniel paced Formosa with 25 points and 11 rebounds. World Import Ronnie Aguilar had 14 points and 16 rebounds but went just 5-for-14 from the field.

With the win, Hong Kong goes to 8-1, while the Dreamers fell to 1-8.

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2018 FIBA 3X3 World Cup

Chooks-to-Go President hopes 3×3 World Cup breaks Philippine Arena record

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Last October 27, 2017, Game Seven of the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals between heated rivals Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and Meralco Bolts saw 54,083 people troop to the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan. The attendance broke all records for both the venue and the PBA.

Come June this year, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and Chooks-to-Go are hoping that the upcoming 2018 FIBA 3×3 World Cup will surpass that record.

“We look at 3×3 as our best hope, really, to get a medal in the Olympics. Kami naman sa Chooks, we are behind SBP realizing that dream. Kanina pinag-uusapan na, if we’re going to break the record in attendance,” said Bounty Agro Ventures Inc. president Ronald Mascariñas on Thursday afternoon during a press conference held at BGC High Street in Taguig.

“I think the question there is not if we’re going to break, but how many more times. Because FIBA should see how passionate the Filipinos are about basketball. That’s a given,” one of the patrons of Gilas Pilipinas added.

Besides the event itself, the local government of Bulacan has pledged to make the week of the tournament filled with activities to celebrate the Philippines’ 120th year of Independence.

For their part, Chooks-to-Go vowed to help out the SBP in organizing the event and in building the team.

“We are throwing our support not to improve on our finish, but we want to help SBP organize, to win the championship — not just to improve our ranking,” Mascariñas shared.

And the experience he and his company gained after backing the Pilipinas 3×3 team during last year’s tournament will only help.

“In past tournaments, we’ve lost some games na maninipis lang talaga,” he recalled about the team composed of Kobe Paras, Kiefer Ravena, Jeron Teng, and JR Quinahan that competed in Nantes, France.

“This time around, with five months to go, we need to organize and put in the best t

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Football

Ilocos United takes leave from PFL

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Another one bites the dust

After months of speculation, Ilocos United has formally announced their absence from the Philippines Football League for the 2018 season.

A statement signed by Ilocos Chief Executive Officer Tony Lazaro and posted on the club’s Facebook page broke the big news.

“Unfortunately, after months of negotiation, efforts to attract a new naming sponsor for the Team were unsuccessful,” the statement opened. “Consequently, it has become financially prohibitive to continue participation in the PFL.

“Primarily, the lack of broadcasting exposure in 2017 created an apprehension in the corporate community, cascading into a series of afflictions that has ultimately led to our withdrawal from the competition.”

Ilocos finished last during the inaugural season, tallying 1 win, 6 draws, and 21 losses with a -49 goal differential.

Still, Ilocos gave their thanks to those who supported the club during the inaugural PFL season.

“We are cautiously optimistic of a potential return to the PFL for the 2019 season, whereby secured broadcasting exposure will hopefully lead to higher confidence from potential sponsorship partners.”

While their PFL operations will fold for the time being, Ilocos will continue the grassroots programs they have started within the area. ¨In the meantime, the foundation of football development we helped to build in Ilocos will continue, including grassroots initiatives at local schools, women’s futsal, Special Olympics, and, of course, the IUFC Academy.¨

The latest development will be another big blow for the young league. Meralco Manila pulled out of the competition beforehand, and now Ilocos´ absence leaves only six teams in the competition.

Now more than ever, something needs to be done by the PFL or even the Philippine Football Federation to ensure the feasibility of the clubs and the league itself for years to come.

Football is a hard sport to build in the Philippines despite its resurgence since 2010. There are limited corporate boosters for the sport which is in dire need of a financial push to sustain its growth.

Ilocos´ leave and Meralco´s folding now forces local football´s stakeholders to take a step back and examine the next moves to build the sport.

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Basketball

CJ Perez, Jaycee Marcelino in unison: D-League is a whole other level

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After falling just two games short of copping Lyceum’s first-ever NCAA crown, the Pirates went to the PBA D-League to gain experience. However, in their first foray in the second league, the Lyceans realized that it was a whole different beast.

Going up against the veteran-laden Marinerong Pilipino Skippers, the Zark’s Burgers-backed squad suffered a slow start as they adjusted to the tougher calls of the league. The Jawbreakers were down by as much as 17 points early in the third frame, 37-54.

“Yung physicality hindi naman ako masyadong nagulat pero sa mental toughness, yung pagod ka na, tapos may babanggga pa sa ‘yo, ang iniisip ko kailangan mas maging tough,” admitted reigning NCAA Most Valuable Player CJ Perez.

“Nangangapa kami nung una lahat kasi first game namin ito, pati dito sa court na ‘to first game din namin,” added Jaycee Marcelino.

It served as a wake-up call. Adjusting on the fly, Perez and Marcelino rallied the Jawbreakers back — even fashioning multiple attempts to take over the contest late in the game. However, they fell short, 92-94.

“Binalik lang namin yung laro namin dati, pass the ball, hindi yung puro dribble, i-run lang namin yung plays,” shared Marcelino, as he and Perez combined to score 16 points in the final frame.

The 21-year-old Marcelino finished with a game-high 20 points on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting to go along with four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block. The 24-year-old Perez added 19 points, five assists, two steals, and a block.

With their first game in the bag, the duo — and the rest of the Jawbreakers — now have the experience under their belts. And they plan to put in the work to prove that they belong.

“Sa NC naman kasi puro ka-level namin kalaro namin, dito puro beterano ang naglalaro,” said Marcelino. “Hindi talaga namin masabi na yung ginawa namin sa NC magagawa din namin dito.

“Mageextra work pa kami para masustain namin kung ano kami sa Lyceum.”

“It’s a good experience. Ibang iba pala talaga yung laro ng D-League sa NCAA,” expressed Perez, who is a consensus top three pick for the upcoming PBA Rookie Draft.

“Sobrang grateful kami na nakalaro na rin kami sa D-League.”

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