One year adrift from taking home the Division II plum, Ceres-La Salle FC took the full points after smothering also-ran Team Socceroo FC, 6-0, en route to clinching the 2015 United Football League (UFL) top division title at the historic Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
The mission for the league leaders was definite from the get-go. Ceres-La Salle pounced on the characteristic play of Team Socceroo, which is to sit back on defense. The black-shirts patiently built up their attack as they searched for scoring chances. The first clear chance for Ceres-La Salle happened at the 13th minute, but the attempt from Nate Burkey hit the crossbar. Eight minutes after, Paul Mulders found Lee Jeong Woo on the wing, however, the Korean was called for offside. The home team continually sent balls into the attacking third; nonetheless, the team could not finish. Four minutes before halftime, Oladipo Okunaiya fired from outside the box. Team Socceroo Defender, Arnel Casil tried to clear the ball, instead, the ball went into the goal, giving a point to Ceres-La Salle.
Team Socceroo made a good account of themselves on defense, until they committed a foul inside the box, conceding a penalty to the home team. Burkey swiftly slotted the bonus into the lower right corner of the goal to double the lead for Ceres. The halftime whistle was sounded with Ceres leading 2-0.
The second half was no different, as Ceres-La Salle kept on dominating the possession, turning every possession into an attacking opportunity. Four minutes after the restart, Burkey scored a brace. The former Azkal collected a pass from the right flank and netted the ball from close range to score his team’s third goal. After finally breaking through the defense repeatedly, the floodgates opened for Ceres. At the hour mark, Okunaiya would not be denied of the goal this time. The Irishman fired a left-footed boot and the shot curved into the onion bag for his team’s fourth.
Despite the lead, Ceres-La Salle still ran their offense smoothly, without any resistance from Team Socceroo. At the 74th minute, Marwin Angeles found the opposing keeper, Baba Sampana, off his line, and from the arc, fired the ball into the back of the net. After delivering crosses and passes most of the game, Jeffrey Christaens took matters into his own hands at the 81st minute. The speedy winger guided the ball into the goal mouth. The final whistle was sounded and Ceres-La Salle finally secured the Division I crown.
With the win, Ceres-La Salle had 40 points off 13 wins and 1 draw, with two matches left to be played. The Division I champions also secured a slot to the 2016 AFC Cup group stages. Ceres was denied entry in this year’s edition of the said regional tournament after losing to Maldivian club Maziya in the two-legged playoff.
In an interview, one of the team’s vital cogs, Midfielder Martin Steuble was delighted that their hard work paid off by winning the division title. When asked if they expected to contend after their promotion to Division I, the National Team member shared that, “We got a strong team together; and we managed to win almost all of the games.” Moreover, being eliminated from contention, in the 2015 AFC Cup, was an added motivation to the team. Steuble stated that the loss “brought the team closer together, and now, we are looking forward to play international games.” Playing at the regional level, Ceres-La Salle will also have a chance to host matches in their home city of Bacolod.
Ceres Head Coach Ali Go was pleased with how his wards worked together to achieve the championship. Go also shared that they have a tradition of winning every tournament they join as much as possible. The multi-titled mentor ended that by securing the AFC Cup berth, “We want to prove it now that we deserve the group stage [slot], and not they playoff spot. We want to make it pass the group stage and that’s our target.”
Another champion was also crowned during the evening’s awarding rites. Laos FC took home the Division II title, being undefeated so far with only a few matches left to be played. The club also secured promotion to the top division next year.
The newly-crowned Division I Ceres-La Salle FC will battle Stallion FC on Sunday, August 2, 2015. Meanwhile, Team Socceroo FC will try to gain same measure of pride when they face Kaya FC on Wednesday, July 29.