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PFFWL Roundup: First round ends with La Salle sweep

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Onrubia scores hat-trick as FEU pummel TYFA, 6-0


PFF Women's League - FEU def TYFA - OnrubiaFar Eastern University have gone from the bottom half to second place after a five-game unbeaten run in which they won four and drew one. Their latest win came at the expense of the Younghusband FA, whom they blanked 6-0.

Joyce Onrubia got the ball rolling for FEU after she drilled a shot inside the box within the first 13 minutes. A minute later she doubled her output in almost the same fashion.

With the match passing the half-hour mark, a free kick situation led to Mary Lam whittling in a shot that was too tricky for TYFA keeper Francesca Rivilla to handle.

After halftime, the Lady Tamaraws continued the pressure, culminating in their fourth goal after 11 minutes, this time from Bia Requerme.

Six minutes later, Onrubia completed a hat-trick with a brilliant solo run.

With nine minutes to go on the clock, Kaye Ysola scored the game’s final goal off another keeper error.

Coach Glaiza Artus was clearly pleased with how her team had ended the first part of the league.

“At least natatapos na umangat yung ranking namin. At least hindi na kami yung nasa last na talaga. At least good performance ng mga bata, lalo na yung na-help nung last two games namin na naipanalo,” she said.

Her side had some problems with finishing chances in their previous games, but she noted that there has been some improvement.

“Yung sabi ko sa kanila is they have to enjoy the game, we’re not about the score but the quality in the finishing,” she added.

The win cements FEU’s place in second of the league standings with 17 points, while TYFA are left in ninth place with 9 points.

Ateneo win banishes Fuego Espanya to last place, 2-0


PFF Women's League - ADMU def Fuego Espanya - Diaz

The Ateneo de Manila University were the only team to play back-to-back games and they were halfway through a productive weekend after overcoming the resistance of Fuego Espanya with a 2-0 win.

Ateneo dominated the match from the get-go, but they clearly struggled to find their rhythm against Fuego Espanya. The club team looked determined to get a point from this match and resorted to bunkering down immediately, while keeper Diana Redondo turned herself into a wall that denied Ateneo’s close range efforts.

It took a 30-yard bomb from Pam Diaz at nearly halftime to break down Fuego Espanya’s defense, one that somehow grazed past the crossbar and Redondo’s outstretched mitts.

Ateneo doubled their lead in practically the same way, this time with a shot cracked by Tessa Bernardo from 18 yards at close to full time, with Redondo again at full stretch.

Coach Marigen Ariel attributed her side’s struggles to the team still getting into shape with their new players.

“We’re adjusting pa sa team shape. So ngayon, nage-experiment pa kami sa bagong system namin kaya tina-try namin ngayon para pagdating next time, okay na. Kailangan namin i-gel muna sila,” she shared.

Ariel also agreed that Fuego Espanya’s defense coupled with her players’ impatience made things hard for the Katipunan-based squad.

“Masyado kasi silang mataas that’s why kami hirap din kami masyadong makakuha ng mga butas. Yung mga bata naman, impatient sila, gusto nilang i-deretso. Sinasabi namin, pasensiya lang, composed lang. ‘Pag wala kayong nakitang magandang butas dun sa defense kasi organized, play it lang back,” she added.

Ateneo still had one match left to play but the outcome of the game put Fuego Espanya in last place with no points.

OutKast FC comeback forces tie with Ateneo, 2-2


PFF Women's League - OutKast draws ADMU - Dolino gametying goal celebration

Ateneo nearly capped off a perfect weekend until a last gasp surge from OutKast FC denied them full points. The two teams were forced to share the spoils, putting them smack in the middle of the ladder with 14 points each, with the club team ahead on goal difference.

It was Ateneo who struck first when Bea Velasco’s through ball to Camille Rodriguez beat an offside trap inside the first five minutes. In the 31st minute, the defense literally collapsed when Rodriguez netted a brace after a pass from Martie Bautista led to a furious run.

The tides turned in the second half with a momentum shift that saw OutKast FC claw their way back into the game. This was most evident after a change-up put Outkast fullback Dai Dolino in attack instead, which unsettled Ateneo.

In the 76th minute, a handball inside the penalty area was called and it was Dolino who converted from the spot. It was also through her and from another spot kick that OutKast snagged the equalizer. A foul led to Dolino squaring up for a free kick from 40 yards out, which resulted in a shot on target that was too strong for goalie Moira Lim. This took place deep into injury time and was also the last play before the final whistle.

Ateneo mentor John Paul Merida revealed that while he was glad his team was still able to get a point from the match, he was happier that it revealed problems that needed to be worked on.

“Happy naman kami sa result kasi ang medyo concern namin dun yung sa backline namin, pano namin ide-deal yung medyo superior na frontline tulad ng OutKast. Ang hindi lang maganda nag-end ng 2-2 kasi galing lahat na na-concede namin sa setpieces like penalty and freekick,” Merida said.

Merida also added that they did not expect to field Lim, one of their young new recruits, after primary keeper Kitkat Montelibano had to be stretchered off the field from cramps.

“Talagang we were planning na tapusin ni Kitkat yung game na to. We were not expecting na ipapasok namin siya dun sa second half kasi ang concern ko talaga is si Dolino na free kick specialist, kaya niya magbigay ng bola kahit saang area especially kung nandun lang sa half ng kalaban,” Merida explained.

Ateneo look to improve on their ranking come second round but it would have to be after some significant changes and with players adjusting to the new formation. “Yung nine games talagang kailangan habulin na we need that every game makakuha namin palagi yung three points,” Merida added.

Keuts Smith, Outkast FC’s playing manager meanwhile, sounded extremely pleased.

“It was a draw but it was like a victory especially like they were leading the whole game. I [also] see it as a victory in the sense that we are a club team,” she said. “Having a draw against Ateneo which is a varsity team for us is a big achievement because those guys they train every single day. We were two goals down so that’s even a bigger achievement.

“That’s the spirit of what we are. That’s what we say to the team: never surrender. I tell them if you’re going to give up now you might as well go to the bench. If you’re on the field, you go, go, go, you don’t give up.”

Smith’s team has been slipping down the standings for a while, so she is even more glad the match halted that.

“It’s good because it’s just before the end of the first round. So finishing on a draw is good, just even for the morale so that we you know, we’re still there, we can do it. And the fact that we beat a varsity team is quite encouraging,” she added.

Davaoeñas power La Salle to sweep, 6-1


PFF Women's League - DLSU def GAU - Dimaandal

The first round closed out with a marquee match between two of the top teams in the league, the De La Salle University and Green Archers United FC. The two teams not only know each other well, they also play the same system of renowned gaffer Hans-Peter Smit, and it was his collegiate team that prevailed 6-1.

It was actually GAU who drew first blood. In the 22nd minute, Marielle Benitez fired a shot from outside the box which DLSU keeper Erika Turtur seemed to handle at first, but she spilled it at the last second. Alisha Del Campo then put away the ball.

This appeared to have been the wake-up call for the league leaders, who had been playing sluggishly up to that point.

With five minutes to go to the half, Kyra Dimaandal’s one-touch shot of Irish Navaja’s pass leveled proceedings. Then in added time, Chelo Hodges scored the go-ahead from a Nina Arrieta cross.

At the game’s one hour mark, it was Arrieta’s turn to score by tapping in a loose ball inside the area.

Arrieta turned creator again in the 75th minute, after she drilled a through ball for Dimaandal that turned into an easy finish.

Five minutes later, the duo — who are both from Davao and have been playing together since childhood — clicked again for Arrieta’s brace.

Another five minutes later, Kyla Inquig capped La Salle’s furious comeback to put their sister team at third place (16 points). The win means DLSU have gone a perfect 9-out-of-9, thus sweeping the first round and with the maximum 27 points (which is also their goal difference advantage).

Smit, who is the coach of the Lady Archers but is also a mentor to GAU, was content with the outcome.

“I’m happy with the result. As you know GAU is my past and my future. So they’re still playing the same way as my team if you noticed in the first half. I knew naman that we would still come out victorious, we’re better fit especially with this weather. If it was a night game, it could be a different story,” he said.

Smit has said many times before that he wanted his side to sweep the first round because it puts the title within reach. “All you need to do is to put a distance between you and the next team. We need to separate from them. We need to further our distance from all the rest, from the pack,” he explained.

Looking forward, Smit believes his team still has the advantage despite the looming transfer window that allows teams to make changes to their roster.

“When the second round starts, teams will have more time to train together especially the clubs. I’m sure the clubs will be trying to recruit from the graduating players of the different UAAP teams. I don’t have that luxury. What I have is a luxury for myself, I prefer it that way: keep it close, so not too much of starting from scratch again. So, we still have an advantage,” he concluded.

The PFF Women’s League will take a pause from the action before it will resume for the second round

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SMART Sports’ Best of 2017: Despite all the politics, volleyball will find a way

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With two club leagues, two prominent collegiate leagues, a national team campaign, and a beach volleyball circuit to keep track of, Philippine volleyball fans never truly get a break.

It seemed that for every month of 2017, there was some talking point that lit up social media. Whether it was a championship, off-court drama, or dueling officials, volleyball never truly stopped. It simply was propelled from one thing to the next.

In the following, we take a look back at the best storylines that volleyball blessed us with in 2017.

La Salle then, La Salle now, La Salle forever (or until RDJ retires)

Years from now, Season 79 will most likely be remembered for the epic Finals clash between the Ateneo de Manila University and the De La Salle University.

Despite this being their sixth straight clash on the biggest stage in local volleyball, both the Lady Spikers and Lady Eagles were ushering in new eras. The Ramil De Jesus-led squad had to find new pieces to replace their old reliables Mika Reyes, Ara Galang, and Cyd Demecillo; while Tai Bundit’s program had just entered the first year of the post-Alyssa Valdez era.

Like a post-apocalyptic cyborg, La Salle found new pieces in Tin Tiamzon, Aduke Ogunsanya, and fresh-from-an-ACL-tear Des Cheng, and convinced setting maestro Kim Fajardo to play out her final year of eligibility. As always, the Lady Spikers were a picture of balance, working out their weaknesses as the season went along and finding their peak at the perfect time.

Ateneo, on the other hand, proved that there was still something phenomenal in them even without the Phenom. Leaning on their supreme length and athleticism, the Lady Eagles overpowered opponents left and right. While fresh-from-academic-exile Michelle Morente, Jho Maraguinot, and Bea De Leon all stepped up their scoring to account for the Valdez-sized hole in their lineup, it was captain Jia Morado who truly came out of her shell. After all, there is something to be said about anchoring the league’s best offense while working with a bottom-two reception line.

While the Finals didn’t last until the final game of the season, like their past meetings, Ateneo and La Salle still managed iconic moments. La Salle, in the end, proved more prudent with their errors and steadier in the endgame to come away with a back-to-back.

Still, Season 80 was built up to possibly the first season without an Ateneo-La Salle finale. The University of the Philippines certainly seemed like a contender, starting the season with a 4-0 record and  a win against La Salle. The National University made their case after winning both their elimination round meetings with Ateneo.

In the end, both those squads sputtered out, and veteran-laiden teams University of Santo Tomas and Far Eastern University ended up taking the last two Final Four spots right in the final week of the elimination round.

Perhaps it is in the aftermath of Season 79 where La Salle shone brightest. The fact that they have not made any headlines after Season 79 might be worrisome to the uninitiated. But the longtime La Salle fan knows that this is just par-for-the-course for a Ramil De Jesus off-season.

La Salle have been stable and quietly building up a roster of recruits that will shock the league once Season 81 rolls around. For now, De Jesus has a stable core of Dawn Macandili, Kianna Dy, Majoy Baron, Des Cheng and Tin Tiamzon to work with for their three-peat bid come Season 80.

Considering the whirlwind off-season every other UAAP team had, the Lady Spikers are settled as early favorites.

Ateneo lost both Morado and Morente seemingly out of the blue, and went through a controversial break-up with Tai Bundit before University President Fr. Jett Villarin stepped in and seemingly forced them to make amends. UP, FEU, and National U all have new head coaches. UST, who were already going to play without Ria Meneses, have to find someone to fill in for top scorer Ej Laure, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

Season 80 will be De Jesus’ 20th season as mentor of the Lady Spikers. He’s gone up against the best players and coaches. Still, he remains on top of the UAAP.

Practice?

The perfect illustration of local volleyball’s volatility was last year’s National Team endeavors.

From the selection of the coaches down to the final match they played in the Southeast Asian Games, there was some measure of drama.

In the end, what the National Team lacked was consistency. Francis Vicente, the embattled coach who had his UAAP record slung at his face with every controversial statement he made, did his best but ultimately had his decisions nip him and the squad.

When the team was distilled from a pool of 25 down to the Final 14, there was considerable lack of Premier Volleyball League players and an abundance of Philippine Superliga talent. Perhaps the PSL does have a better overall pool of players, but there were certainly PVL players who could have helped the National Team, especially with their lack of open hitters.

The squad was also inconsistent with what they deemed acceptable. Even the routine practices became major talking points as, one day, only one player was notably missing preparations. The following month, 90 percent of the squad was absent due to club commitments.

Still, the Nationals provided us with a reason to be optimistic.

Although they finished just barely in the Top 8 of the Asian Senior Women’s Championship in Biñan, Laguna, they did cop a momentous win over Southeast Asian powerhouse Vietnam in the second group phase.

In the SEA Games, the women’s squad squeezed into the semifinals, but eventually fell to a determined Vietnam squad in the bronze medal match.

Dawn Macandili, the smallest player on the team, proved to be the biggest star after being named Asia’s Second Best Libero. Alyssa Valdez, Jaja Santiago, and Jovelyn Gonzaga all had standout performances as well on the international stage.

Considering all the off-court hoopla, 2017 was a much better National Team year than 2015. Not even looking at the squad’s finishes, the caliber of preparation was the best our National Team has had in decades.

The LVPI laid the groundwork in 2017. They need to keep grinding in 2018. There has been no news and assurance that Francis Vicente will be brought back as the head coach. If they are to name a new coach, they will most likely have another string tryouts to suit the system of the new head coach.

What volleyball needs is a Gilas-like program. It needs dedicated managers and coaches that have the National Team’s priorities first above anything else. It needs a pools of players for different age groups that will make the transition to the senior team much easier.

Gilas is not a perfect example, with its complicated relationship with the PBA and its stakeholders. But the Men’s National Basketball team has thrived over the past decade amidst all the controversy because of the bedrock that is Gilas.

In a volleyball utopia, the National Team would be in Ramil De Jesus’ hands with players always available due to cooperation of the club leagues with their scheduling.

We may never achieve utopia, but volleyball fans and supporters deserve to at least have very minimal politics in the sport we love.

Twice Thrice-Beaten

The most overlooked local league brought about another tension-filled season.

For the second straight year, the most compelling storyline was Grethcel Soltones’ chase for an indoor NCAA title. And for the second straight year, she led her San Sebastian College-Recoletos Lady Stags straight to the Finals with an unblemished elimination round record.

For the second straight year, the Lady Stags languished a thrice-to-beat advantage.

While San Sebastian had Grethcel Soltones, the NCAA’s best player for three straight years, the Arellano University Lady Chiefs had a more balanced lineup and divine motivation.

Led by Jovielyn Prado, Rialen Sante, and Regine Arocha — Season 92’s breakout star — the Lady Chiefs took three straight matches from the Lady Stags. More than winning their second title in three years, Arellano University wanted to bring home the championship for grieving head coach Obet Javier, who had just lost his wife.

With three NCAA MVP awards, Grethcel Soltones left Roger Gorayeb’s program as the first to never have won an indoor title.

Without Soltones, the NCAA also is left without an incredible singular talent. The Lady Chiefs look like runaway titlists. Teams like San Beda College and College of Saint Benilde have young talent and could contiue conteding for a championship. The Lady Stags, meanwhile, will reportedly have just eight girls on their roster.

What the NCAA lacks in superstars, they make up for with sheer intrigue.

PSL vs PVL

While competition can certainly breed talent, the battle between PSL and PVL brought about animosity rivaled only by the mishap in the PBA with Chito Narvasa and some PBA teams.

Both leagues certainly put up competitive conferences, but the way they dueled in public overshadowed the matches they showcased.

It began with the formation of the National Team, as one league seemingly had full control while the other barely had any representation in the tryouts and training.

Then it escalated when the PVL had trouble securing required documents for their imports to play in the Reinforced Conference and pinpointed PSL officials as conspirators against them.

Up to the Reinforced Conference semis, eventual champions Pocari Sweat had replacement import Krystal Rivers waiting until the very last minute, only to have her suit up in the Finals.

The rift between both leagues becomes intolerable when it affected the quality of volleyball, especially with the National Team. Both leagues and their officials bring something to the table when it comes to organizing volleyball leagues.

PSL, under the supervision of Tats Suzara, has constantly pushed the limits of innovation since they started four years ago. The league has brought in world-class players and officials.

Just this year, the league had three successful conferences in the Invitational Cup (where they brought in Japanese collegiate team Kobe Shinwa), the All-Filipino Cup, and the Chooks-to-Go Grand Prix.

The year eventually unfolded into a rivalry between juggenauts Petron and F2 Logistics. The deep Blaze Spikers got first blood in the AFC, but F2 Logistics ended the year with the league’s prized Grand Prix title.

The Final game of their season boasted unparalleled drama with F2 Logistics’ Venezuelan import Maria Jose Perez playing Game Three a day after her brother died of cancer. It also had the resurgence of Cha Cruz, who won the league’s first-ever Finals MVP plum.

The PVL, on the other hand, remained the steady institution it has always been since they started nearly 15 years ago. From its humble roots as the Shakey’s V-League, Ricky Palou’s tournaments have persisted even in the lowest, most dire of situations in Philippine volleyball.

With the country’s most prominent TV station showing their games, the PVL continues to flourish. 2017 saw the debut of Rebisco’s Creamline Cool Smashers, who showed they were serious contenders by signing top-caliber stars in Alyssa Valdez and Jia Morado.

At first, it seemed that Pocari Sweat had another double-crown in hand after a smashing triumph over the Bali Pure Water Defenders in the Reinforced Conference Finals.

The Lady Warriors were nearly booted in the Open Conference, if not for Heather Guino-O’s heroics in Game Two against Air Force, Pocari Sweat might as well have never made the Finals again.

Cherry Rondina is the queen of the sands

From a fringe sport, beach volleyball has grown to be the marquee place for where Filipinos can truly excel.

No one exemplifies this more than Sisi Rondina, who dominated the local sands in 2017. The UST Tigress started off with an unbeaten run in the PSL Challenge Cup with partner Bernadeth Pons of FEU. The Cebuana then lifted sophomore partner Caitlyn Viray to another unblemished conquest of the UAAP Season 80 Beach Volleyball tournament for her second straight collegiate title and third overall.

She and Pons also got a taste of international competition when they represented the country in the Southeast Asian Beach Volleyball Championship.

Standing at just five-feet-six-inches, Rondina overwhelms opponents with her ruthless quickness and uncanny leaping ability. No doubt she was this year’s Queen of the Sands, if there was one.

Perhaps, the most important development in 2017 for beach volleyball was continued persistence of Beach Volleyball Republic. BVR, which was established by passionate athletes Dzi Gervacio, Charo Soriano, and Bea Tan, continued with their nation-wide circuit and had another international level competition. They even established a Men’s circuit, which they had lacked in years prior.

Volleyball needs more determined people like those behind BVR, who continue to push boundries and move mountains just to keep alive the sport they love.

Coach O is Mr. 2017

Men’s volleyball continued to fly under people’s radar, which was a shame since 2017 was historic, especially for one coach Oliver Almadro.

While Ramil De Jesus continued to dominate the women’s, his former protege established his own dynasty throughout the year.

All the Men’s teams that Almadro coached won the championship.

In the UAAP, his Ateneo Blue Eagles completed a season-long sweep, fending off the determined National University Bulldogs in two classic matches in the Finals.

In the PVL Men’s Division, Almadro led the Cignal HD Spikers to the Open and Reinforced Conference championships, then anchored the Blue Eagles for a third consecutive Collegiate Conference crown.

Counting other leagues, the frenetic mentor barely lost a match. While it can be easily argued that it was his players that won the matches, it was Almadro’s unrelenting voice of guidance that helped establish his teams’ winning culture.

Almadro and men’s volleyball barely got any fanfare in 2017. A look at how little coverage the Men’s National Team got and one will find just how underapprecieated the men are.

It’s a miracle that the Men’s National Team even got to participate in the Southeast Asian Games, as head coach Sammy Acaylar and LVPI acting president Peter Cayco had to lobby heavily for the team to be considered competitive.

The men worked for everything they got, toiling away in the Arellano Law School Gym almost every day for the better part of five months.

While the men failed to even enter the SEA Games semifinals, they showed potential. That most of the roster were 25-years-old or younger should be considered, especially with the 2019 SEA Games right around the corner.

Like the women’s side, the men could also do with a lot less politics for 2018. Hopefully, they too get some sort of international exposure and continue to develop as a team.

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SMART Sports’ Best of 2017: Banner year for Filipinas, Ceres-Negros

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Football was well and truly alive for Filipinos in 2017

There were highs and lows but the roller coaster ride showed that the sport is gaining in prominence ever since the resurgence brought about by that fabled Azkals run in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Philippine Women’s National Football Team qualifies for the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup

After 15 years in the wilderness, the Philippines is set to compete once again in Asia’s premier international women’s competition.

Steered by 2017 AFC Coach of the Year nominee Buda Bautista, the Philippine Women’s National Football Team had three wins, one draw and one loss in the qualifiers held last April 3 to 12, 2017 in Tajikistan to book a ticket for the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Jordan.

“It was really (the players’) thirst to win that pushed us,” said Bautista after the Filipinas’ second place finish in Group A which sealed the deal. “Hindi pa nga nagsi-sink in. I think we made history.”

The one player whose stock rose in the qualifiers was De La Salle University’s Sara Castaneda who scored the goal against Bahrain that clinched the point needed to move on to the big dance which shall be held this April 6 to 18, 2018.

“[It’s] very fulfilling. I mean it is not all the time that we get an opportunity like this,” the midfielder said. “I wouldn’t have been able to score the goals without the team, so thank you to them.”

The Filipinas’ initial reward for their endeavors is to grouped alongside China, Thailand and hosts Jordan. As of this writing, preparations for the competition are ongoing in the USA with newly appointed coach Richard Boone.

Since the tournament also serves as the Asian qualifiers for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the France, a fifth place finish is what the Filipinas need to enter the world stage.

“We call on all true supporters of Philippine Football to come together to help make the World Cup Qualification a reality. In 2010, the Miracle in Hanoi brought us all together to support the men’s national team. Now is the time for Women’s football to take us to the next level,” commented Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta.

La Salle, Ateneo reclaim UAAP football crowns

Right from the kickoff of the UAAP Season 79 Men’s and Women’s Football divisions, it was clear which school was a notch higher in its respective division.

Both the De La Salle Lady Archers and Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles suffered heartbreak in their respective Season 78 finals matches and were eager to go one better from where they last let off.

La Salle did not just go one better, though, as the Taft school won all its games including the 3-1 title-clincher against University of Santo Tomas last May 7, 2017. The Lady Archers’ victory handed La Salle its ninth UAAP Women’s Football championship and its first after seven seasons.

La Salle coach Hans-Peter Smit shared, “It’s about time! The girls deserve this considering what I said before that we’re not a complete team, healthy team. And with the injuries and everything there and coming out champions with with a perfect season, what else can I say?”

Likewise, Ateneo had a dominant season in the Men’s Division as the Blue Eagles only drew and lost once in the elimination round. Season 79 MVP Jarvey Gayoso was Ateneo’s main star and it was fitting that the grandson of the legendary Ed Ocampo and son of former Ginebra stalwart Jayvee Gayoso scored the only goal of the finals match against Far Eastern University.

“We deserve this. I’m so happy to win another championship,” said Ateneo coach JP Merida after the Blue Eagles’ 1-0 victory of the Tamaraws.

Gayoso’s championship goal was one of the 12 he scored en route towards Ateneo’s league-best seventh championship. “That’s why I always point to the sky. I offer this to my lolo, my mom and my dad,” said the now third-year striker.

Philippines Football League is launched amidst growing pains

Out with the old and in with the new.

In a move seen to help Philippine football evolve to the next level, the PFF launched the nationwide Philippines Football League to replace the Metro Manila-centered United Football last April 21, 2017 at Shangri-La at the Fort hotel in Taguig City.

Kaya-Makati, Ceres-Negros, Global Cebu, JPV-Marikina, Stallion Laguna, Meralco Manila, Davao Aguilas and Ilocos United comprised of the eight teams in the league’s inaugural season.

PFF president Araneta said to Nevin Reyes of the Manila Times, “This is the first professional football league in the Philippines. We are really happy that this is pushing through. Hopefully, it would be successful. We are here to support the success of this league.”

As always in the formation of something new, growing pains were experienced by all of the league’s stakeholders. Not all clubs were said to be able to pay the franchise fee, but the league’s biggest problem was arguably its lack of decent coverage on television or livestream.

Mike Limpag of Sun Star Cebu wrote, “There were a lot of major hiccups in the inaugural season of the PFL and I think the most glaring one was the TV deal with PTV 4, which didn’t even last half a season.”

If the PFL’s shortage of TV coverage was bad enough, then its livestream platform Mycujoo’s lack of stability made the circumstances worse. Local football fans were deprived of the stable online platform they needed to fully enjoy the show.

With all those issues mentioned, however, we must realize the the league needed to exist sooner rather than later. The longer the league failed to get established, then the probability of it not existing at all would definitely be higher.

Ultimately, Ceres cemented itself as the best team in the land with a 4-1 victory vs Global in the championship game. Ceres’ victory showed that while the league itself is difficult to manage, it’s always going to be worth it.

Here’s to a better season come 2018.

Local clubs rise in international cups

The two clubs that reached the 2017 PFL final were Ceres and Global. These two clubs were also the flag bearers for Philippine club football in continental and regional play.

Global got eliminated in the preliminary rounds of the 2017 AFC Champions League so the Cebu club slid down to the 2017 AFC Cup group stage. Global and Ceres then progressed past their respective groups and entered Asean Zonal semi-finals.

Sadly, the dream of seeing both clubs face each other in the ASEAN Zonal Final wasn’t meant to be. Singaporean club Home United painfully eliminated Global 5-4 on aggregate while Ceres had Fernando Rodriguez’s last-minute penalty to thank for as the Busmen drew level 4-4 with Malaysian powerhouse Johor Darul Ta’zim and advanced via the away goals rule.

Destiny beckoned for Ceres and the Busmen took it with both hands. Ceres downed Home United 3-2 in aggregate thanks to a masterful performance in the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City to become the AFC Cup’s ASEAN Zonal Champions.

Busmen coach Risto Vidakovic opined to Cedelf Tupas of the Inquirer, “The players gave everything. It wasn’t easy when you miss so many chances because when that happens, you usually lose. But whoever came on gave their all for the club.”

Although Ceres failed to get past West Asia Zonal champions Istiklol FC of Tajikistan, the Bacolod club’s achievement drew recognition from AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. Al Khalifa said, “On behalf of the AFC football family, I would like to congratulate Ceres Negros for claiming the ASEAN Zonal Champions crown.”

On the other hand, Global went through another international heartbreak. Misagh Bahadoran and company became the first Filipino club to reach the Singapore Cup final after prevailing 4-3 on aggregate against Singapore side Hougang United.

Japanese club Albirex Niigata awaited Global in the finals and the two clubs drew level at 2-2 after extra time so penalties were needed. Albirex then outlasted Global 3-1 on penalties after the latter’s Wesley Dos Santos, Darryl Roberts and Paolo Salenga all missed their spot-kicks.

Global coach Akbar Nawas commented to ABS-CBN Sports’ Camille Naredo, “I’m immensely satisfied with the whole season. The players, myself, the staff, the coaches, everyone had to dig deep. Every single game, we had to dig deep in our approach to beat the opponents.”

Come 2018, Ceres and Global will again carry Philippine club football in international play courtesy of their PFL finals appearance. The sky is the limit for both clubs and an improvement will be most welcome for Philippine football’s growth.

Asian Cup frustration and the Taiwan debacle

It is safe to say that 2017 was a year to forget for the Philippine Azkals.

The Azkals should have followed their female counterparts’ lead and qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian cup by now, but the national team is currently flirting with disaster. Grouped with Yemen, Tajikistan and Nepal; the Filipinos won their first two assignments only to draw the next three.

Javier Patino’s ACL injury turned a deadly Azkals squad into a tame one in terms of goalscoring, although that shouldn’t be a big excuse as the squad had more than enough firepower to seal qualification in that infuriating goalless draw away to winless Nepal.

Araneta said to Inquirer’s Tupas, “It’s disappointing. We have to talk to (Dooley) on what the team needs as we should have won that game. I don’t know what are the reasons for that but we can’t afford another bad result.”

Aside from failing to seal Asian Cup qualification for the first time, the Azkals saw their place in the FIFA World Rankings go down from 118 to 124 at the end of the year. This was mainly due to the poor performance shown by the squad selected for the Chinese Taipei Football Association International Tournament held last December 1 to 5, 2017.

Mentored by Marlon Maro and managed by Davao Aguilas owner Jefferson Cheng, the team formed with mostly Davao players won against Laos and went on to lose to Chinese Taipei and Timor Leste. Local football fans were livid with the results and the backlash went into overdrive.

Azkals team manager Dan Palami voiced his dissent on Twitter and stated, “Just as we remember the Azkals Miracle in Hanoi, so too should we not forget this experience in Taiwan. Both offer valuable lessons…” which forced a reaction from Cheng.

Cheng answered back, “I think whoever makes these negative statements are being unfair. We ended up second place with 3 days preparation, the players were given the best organization one can possibly do with the time, and logistics constraints we have plus the conflict that the CTFA Tournament have with the PFL schedule.

“We may not have won the tournament but the winner here is Philippine football. The exposure given to our younger players was the right thing to do,” added the Davao owner.

Thankfully, 2018 offers a new opportunity for the Azkals to soothe the frustration of local football fans. What better what way to start the repentance than to earn Asian Cup qualification against Tajikistan in Panaad this March 27, 2018.

A win or draw will suffice for the Azkals’ qualification while a loss would leave Filipinos hoping Nepal escapes defeat against Yemen in the other fixture.

Philippine Football Personality of the Year: Leo Rey Yanson

Truth be told no other person rocked the local football scene more than Ceres owner Leo Rey Yanson.

Yanson poured money into the club to recruit stars such as Roland Muller, Iain Ramsay and Stephan Schrock for the Bacolod club and his investment has paid dividends. Ceres not only won the inaugural PFL crown, but the Busmen also affirmed themselves on the international stage with their ASEAN Zonal title.

“This year is undoubtedly, a great year for us,” said Yanson to Cedelf Tupas. “Clinching the AFC Cup 2017 Asean zone title and the Philippine Football League Championship title would have not been possible without the hard work and sacrifices that each of the players and coaching staff have put in.”

In fact, such is Yanson’s love for the club and its fans that tickets to watch Ceres’ games are for free. As told by Ceres official Warren Concepcion to Spin.ph’s Christian Jacinto, “Our team owner Mr. Leo Rey Yanson decides to give out the tickets for free. It’s been the story of Ceres Negros Football to give back to our fans and supporters in Panaad so our boss decided to give out tickets for free.”

It is only fitting then that Yanson’s Ceres will carry the flag for Philippine football in the upcoming 2018 AFC Champions League. First up for the Busmen will be Myanmar champions Shan United on January 16. Ceres will have to pull off a win sans Ramsay and Muller who will leave the club.

Nevertheless, expect Yanson to pull off some aces in recruitment to help give his team a possible run in Asia’s premier competition.

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Filipino finishes with a masters degree from Korea’s Dream Together program

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Tiebreaker Times contributor and former Ateneo Blue Eagle (swimming) Aldo Tong became the first Filipino to receive a masters degree from the prestigious Dream Together Master program at the Seoul National University, last December 19.

The program is funded by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism of Korea and the Korea Sports Promotion Foundation. Dream Together is a global sport development program that is aimed at educating future global sports leaders.

Some of the program’s distinguished mentors include sports scholar Joon Ho Kang, Bettina Cornwell of the University of Oregon, father of modern sports management Packianathan Chelladurai, award-winning sportswriter and best-selling author Alan Abramson, Olympic Games specialist Lisa Hindson, among others.

“This is the culmination of the 17 months of the program where I was able to not only earn a degree but also make friends both from Korea and abroad,” said Tong about the experience.

“With the experience and knowledge that I gained, I hope that I can do my part in helping develop and grow Philippine sports and help the Filipino athlete,” added the member of the class of 2018 that consists of 28 students from all over the world.

Tong, 30, graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in Applied Mathematics major in Mathematical Finance back in 2009.

He became part of the school’s Finance faculty afterwards while moonlighting as the swimming head coach of Ateneo’s juniors swimming team.

He joined Tiebreaker Times back in 2014. He covered events such as swimming and water polo.

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Ateneo defends WBSC Hong Kong Open crown

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Photo from Ateneo Baseball Team Twitter

Defending UAAP Baseball champions Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles are once again off to the races in their preparation for the upcoming season.

For the second straight year, the blue batters of Ateneo took home the WBSC Hong Kong International Baseball Open championship in the club division after ripping Sydney University, 10-4, Sunday afternoon at Lion Rock Park Baseball Field in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

“It feels great to be back. It’s always good to come here and play,” said Ateneo catcher Dino Altomonte. “We’re looking to do it again next year.”

Besides taking home the crown once more, the Blue Eagles racked up the majority of the individual awards.

Marco Mallari took home the Most Valuable Player plum. The third-year Blue Eagle played in all four games, going an efficient 9-of-14 at-bat and punching in eight runs.

Fourth-year and UAAP Season 79 Finals MVP Paulo Macasaet was named as the Best Pitcher of the tournament, finishing with a clean 2-0 slate. The national team standout struck out 11 batters while only allowing six runs when he’s on the mound.

Filipino-American Marquis Alindogan had the most hits and most stolen bases in the four-team meet. Alindogan finished with six stolen bases.

With the win, coach Randy Dizer was named as the Best Coach.

Ateneo started off its campaign the way it started it with a 12-7 win over Sydney University last December 14. The Blue Eagles were able to edge out Hong Kong Blue the next day, 9-6, before lambasting Lanzhou New Way, 12-3.

Last year’s tourney only had one division.

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