Elimination round of the UAAP Season 77 Football Tournament has ended in both men’s and women’s division. Six teams—four in the men’s and two in the women’s–remain on the hunt for the UAAP football titles, while seven teams bid farewell and will regroup in preparation for next year. Apart from the results, there are interesting stories that developed over the course of last weekend. Three players in the men’s division revealed their insights, while a renowned university program is eager to improve in their respective divisions to prevent withering behind the competition they used to dominate. Last but not the least, a leader will be missed by a semi-final bound team in what looks to be their biggest match against their rivals since 2013. Let us cut to the chase and present the plots unearthed from the last eight football games of the elimination round in both men’s and women’s football.
Season 77: Worst year in UST football
A sixth place out of eight in men’s football and a last place finish in women’s football clearly underlines Season 77 as the worst year in UST football if only records are to be observed. The Golden Booters never finished below the top five before as the UAAP football tournament did not have more than six teams since 2013. With the addition of NU two years ago, UST always finished better than two teams. Adamson joined this year, completing the participation of all schools. UST repeated the feat of finishing two places above the bottom, but that meant that they closed out their season in sixth—statistically their worst in UAAP football history. The same can be said in women’s football. UST has always been a top three team until this year when they had to settle for last, only winning two while losing the other six of their eight games. Last season, UST was beaten semi-finalists in men’s football and losing finalists in women’s football.
What mainly attributed to this sharp decline, according to men’s football team coach Marjo Allado, was the change in UST’s academic calendar. The alteration undermined UST’s senior players in both teams, whom, for varying reasons, related to the adjustments missed the line-up due to academic ineligibility. It resulted in many inexperienced but skillfully promising players bannering UST in both divisions. Although having their moments, the teams in black, gold, and white struggled to remain composed in getting the desired results. Save for FEU and UP, UST’s losses have been narrow in men’s football. However, they conceded a goal each in the last five minutes of each match they played against DLSU, NU, and Ateneo. Those goals sunk UST and led them to drop three valuable points. Now that the forgettable season has ended, hope springs eternal for the Tomasians as they look to reincorporate their seniors for a stronger showing in the years to come. “Sabi nga ng mga commentator [na] magaling ‘yung UST. Better performance [next season] kasi babalik seniors namin,” thought Steven Anotado, the promising second year striker who scored 11 of UST’s 23 goals. He also supported the claim of his coach, noting that having no veteran players in the field weakened the Tigers’ mental toughness in games.
Acknowledging UST’s unusual losing form midway through the season, Allado altered his main objective for the team: cultivate the winning mentality into the young players’ minds. Speaking after the loss to Ateneo, the mentor has grown slightly pleased of his novice wards. “I’m satisfied with the game, pero talo. ‘yung winning mentality nandoon na,” claimed Allado, whose team were edged out by a late Final Four-clinching goal scored by Ateneo fullback, Kendall Colet. Allando is hopeful that the players have matured out of adversity as they come back next year with the aim of performing far better than they did this season. As for the UST women’s football team, UST coach Judal Sorito kept mum on the absence of ineligible seniors. Instead, he assessed the team based on who composed his season roster. “Iba yung competition at pressure sa UAAP. At least ngayon naka-adjust na. Sana next season mas umangat pa,” he said of his players, mostly young particularly in midfield. UST lost Pearl Aguilar and Rara Luna, two vital and influential players for UST this season. With a proud sporting heritage that goes across all sports, UST will surely reinvigorate its football program as they strive to do far better than what could be describe as a catastrophic season for them.
Bugas returns in time hopeful of making impact in the semis
Midfielder Paolo Bugas missed six of FEU’s last seven games after tearing his meniscus that sidelined him for a month. Last year’s Most Valuable Player, however, gave his team a boost after playing a part in last Sunday’s 5-0 win against UE. Although playing just five minutes, the third year player is happy to be back on the pitch. Surely, followers of the green and gold can’t be more pleased with such event.
In his absence, several players have stepped up to more than fill his void. It led to wonderful results with FEU winning by an average margin of five goals, also picking up two draws against UP and La Salle. “The team did well. Everyone worked hard every game. I can see from them that they really want to win another championship,” he said. Although there is a considerable likelihood that FEU Coach Kim Chul Su will not field Bugas in the starting XI tomorrow, the midfielder is ready to contribute. “My fitness isn’t that 100% [yet], but I will do my best if I get the chance to play.” Part of the team’s preparations was to play a practice game with UFL team, Manila Jeepney FC, where Bugas featured. “I think it went back to normal. I didn’t feel anything from my injury [in the game],” he opened.
Facts don’t particularly bode well for Bugas against UP this season. The team lost 3-1 when he played in the first round, but he was able to get a point in a 3-3 second round game, which they believed that they could have won. However, it is not pragmatic to say that Bugas has been the reason behind the loss for he has played solidly for his team prior to injury. Perhaps it can be pointed out that FEU has become a tougher team after experiencing two defeats in the first round. Just as the returning midfielder says of his team, they only know one thing at this point, and that is to defend the title—and surely that is expected of them with or without Bugas on the pitch.
Salenga proud of gritty Bulldogs’ Season 77 run
Paolo Salenga played his last UAAP game in the 1-0 defeat against La Salle last Sunday. The star forward played for three seasons with NU, and he is one of the team’s important players of this campaign. Salenga scored nine times this season, often times to help his team get vital wins against fellow contenders. Although the relatively young Bulldogs have fallen short of a trip to the Final Four, Salenga has no remorse whatsoever in the way they fought this season. “Masaya kasi kahit hindi kami nakapasok sa Final Four, maganda naman performance naming this season. At saka masaya rin ako kasi nakalaro ko ‘yung mga rookies namin so may exposure na sila this season,” Salenga said.
This may have only been the third season of NU in UAAP football, but they have improved steadily after finishing seventh and sixth in their first two seasons. Ending in fifth, NU looks poised to make it next year if the trend is to be followed. However, that is not an easy thing to do as they will also miss defensive talisman Darwin Regala. Now departing the Sampaloc team, Salenga is still not saying goodbye to football. He was an unused substitute in Global FC’s 1-6 loss to South China AA in the AFC Cup, and could earn a cap in one of the Filipino club’s remaining games in the tournament, not to mention the possibility of playing a good amount of minutes in the UFL. Prior to that, Salenga has also played for two other UFL Clubs Dolphins United and Pachanga Diliman.
His happiest moment this season came when he scored a late winner against UST in their second round match. “Kung hindi kami nanalo sa UST, no chance na kami sa Final Four,” he elaborated. He followed it up with a goal against Ateneo, also the difference maker in the match, to boost their chances of making it to the Final Four. However, he was not able to do it again versus DLSU—which spelled the team’s exit in the tournament. Easily, Salenga branded that as the saddest part of this season. “Iyong target talaga namin makapasok muna ng Final Four. Though hindi kami nakapasok at least pinakita naming ‘yung best this season.” Aside from that, Salenga is also thankful to NU for giving him an opportunity to not only show what he is capable of on the pitch, but also the chance to know a lot of coaches and players. With a bright future ahead of him, it will not be the last time that we will see Salenga in Philippine football, although we have witnessed him end his short but eventful career as a Bulldog.
Jumo II overjoyed after helping Adamson draw with UP
Adamson’s leading scorer in Season 77, Bless Brian Jumo II, more known as Brian (his twin brother bears the nickname Bless) Jumo II had a wonderful way of ending the debut season. The rookie forward was blissful, as he had put it, when he netted the 88th minute equalizer that earned them a famous draw against UP; although the Maroons looked like their focus was in the semis throughout the match. Still, to achieve something fantastic, particularly in defending the goal-minded Maroons is something the young team will like to relish for a while.
“Hindi ko inexpect na makakagoal ako sa sabihin natin na bigatin na teams sa UAAP,” he delightfully expressed. “Sobrang tuwa ko talaga. Memorable sa akin ‘yun,” the young player added. Throughout the season, the captain had led his team both with words and goals towards an expected but still a respected eighth place finish. In Season 77, Adamson only lost three games by four goals or more, but managed to stay undefeated in the final week of the eliminations. For an inexperienced squad to go through a rough season makes a lot of sense, but the way the team ended the season reflects the character of the Falcons. “Malaking bagay [draw vs UP] bilang bagong team. Nag-start kami sa maganda [tapos] nag-struggle at saka sa huli, maganda ‘yung pag-exit namin sa Season 77. Hindi kami na-zero ngayong season,” he elaborated.
On another note, Jumo II looks up to two of the most deadly strikers in the UAAP—FEU’s Jhan Jhan Melliza and UP’s Jinggoy Valmayor, whom he labels as the kind of people who are willing to do everything to win for their respective universities. Personally, he admires the way both veteran forwards move towards creating chances not only for themselves, but also involving teammates. The UAAP has a way of honing virtual unknowns into highly-rated youngsters. Maybe a few years down the road, Jumo II will be able to draw out the same kind of admiration.
Ateneo’s Mabanag to miss semis match vs La Salle
Ateneans were jubilant when Kendall Colet smashed home an 87th minute winner against UST that effectively booked their spot in the Final Four as the fourth seed. A prize for such accomplishment is the opportunity to eliminate the still-unbeaten DLSU men’s football team, who have reigned supreme after 14 games. The game has yet to start, but definitely one man’s presence for the blue and white will not be felt tomorrow. Captain Mikko Mabanag received a booking in the match versus UST, his second of the season. As a result, he will have to miss out on the semis to serve the suspension. Alongside him sits Noel Brago, La Salle’s defender who also got carded in DLSU’s 1-0 win over NU.
While Brago’s absence will also force La Salle to adjust defensively, it is arguable that Mabanag not playing will have a bigger impact on Ateneo. The Season 75’s Best Midfielder Awardee has directly been involved in 10 of Ateneo’s 21 goals this season with three goals and seven assists to his name. The last time Mabanag was suspended against La Salle, Ateneo lost the game 2-0 in the second round of the season when the Blue Eagles eventually bagged the trophy. However, the skipper is confident of the team’s capabilities.
“I think our coaches will be able to adjust. We have a strong midfield naman,” declared Mabanag who also has seen recent DLSU-ADMU games where his team has won more than they lost. “From what I’ve heard, La Salle has hard time with us. Sana they will and we play better. Labanan ng puso at pride ‘to,” uttered the fourth year Legal Management student. His team’s coach, JP Merida, admitted that missing Mabanag is a concern, but it also serves a reminder to everyone; including his players, DLSU, and those planning to watch the game tomorrow. “Hindi rin naman pwedeng isipin na dahil wala si Mikko, hindi tayo maglalaro. Siyempre nandito na kami sa semis. Gagawin na namin lahat against La Salle,” he vowed.