Without a doubt, the year 2020 was a painful one for the whole world because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Normal human activities halted for the virus’ wrath and, just like everything else, football in the Philippines took a backseat.
However, and against all odds, the sport managed to remain alive in the country thanks to the 2020 Philippines Football League sponsored by Qatar Airways bubble season. And there, its eventual champions United City Football Club showed why it was a class above the rest.
Finding Their Feet
It was a tumultuous off-season for United City, to say the least. The club faced a change in ownership after longtime patron, Leo Ray Yanson, sold Ceres-Negros to Eric Gottschalk and the MMC Sportz Asia group back in July.
The new owners rebranded the team to its current identity and managed to retain the core of the squad, most notably Azkals hero Stephan Schrock. Unfortunately, though, a deal to re-sign coach Risto Vidakovic did not come to fruition.
Veteran mentor Frank Muescan then stepped in to steady the ship when newly-appointed instructor Trevor Morgan failed to arrive because of difficulties due to travel restrictions. Similar to other teams in the league, physical training sessions were limited to adhere to the protocols set by the IATF.
Come the first game against the Azkals Development Team, United City players were evidently rusty as Scott Cooper’s men put up a good fight until the very end. Manny Ott had a disappointing game after he received a red card for a bad tackle. On the other hand, his brother Mike opened the tournament with a fine goal that gave his team all three points.
Going Goal Crazy
With the first match out of the way, United City became such a dominant team that the likes of Mendiola 1991, Maharlika Manila, and Stallion Laguna endured thrashings at the hands of the defending champions.
Bienvenido Maranon started to light up the competition after producing a hat-trick to lead United City in its 6-0 rout of Mendiola. Robert Lopez Mendy scored twice in that same game, while Mike Ott tallied a penalty.
Maharlika Manila was next to suffer United City’s wrath. The former conceded 10 goals, which came from hat-tricks by OJ Porteria and Lopez Mendy; a brace from Mike Ott; and a strike each by Maranon and Schrock.
With Kaya-Iloilo being held to draws by Stallion and Mendiola, United City had the golden opportunity to clinch its fourth straight championship against Stallion. While Ibrahima N’Dour managed to score past goalkeeper Anthony Pinthus, it was merely a consolation goal. The title winners sealed the deal thanks to another Maranon hat-trick, Mike Ott brace, and strikes from Porteria and Takashi Odawara, which ended up in a 7-1 demolition.
United City’s only stain happened in its final game of the tournament after it suffered a 1-2 loss at the hands of Kaya. Manny Ott’s late goal failed to overturn a two-goal deficit that came from strikes by Kenshiro Daniels and Carlyle Mitchelle. Despite the dismal result, United City’s players and staff enjoyed the evening as they were formally awarded the trophy they so richly deserved.
In a ceremony graced by Gottschalk and Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta, PFL commissioner Coco Torre handed the silverware to rookie Pocholo Bugas. He then delivered it to Schrock as the talismanic skipper faced his teammates and raised it high and proud to celebrate their achievement.
The future is uncertain for the club, as the likes of Porteria and Dennis Villanueva have signed for Thai League 1 clubs. Meanwhile, Schrock has admitted that he is unsure of another return to the club. All these factors are big blows ahead of the team’s debut in the 2021 AFC Champions League.
Nevertheless, Philippine football was alive and well in 2020 despite the onslaught of the coronavirus disease. United City proudly led the way in bringing life to the sport in the country.