The University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons have had a decent first round in this UAAP Season 78 Men’s Football Tournament. UP have drawn against the Far Eastern University and National University; defeated Ateneo de Manila University, Adamson University and University of the East; and suffered their only loss against league leaders De La Salle University. The Fighting Maroons’ latest game against the Bulldogs, though, displayed their biggest problem this season – goal-scoring.
NU had played more defensively against UP compared to other teams after they had lost twice in a row. UP center-back Ian Clarino praised NU after the match and mentioned the Bulldogs’ compactness in the middle as a key feature in their game, but he lamented the Fighting Maroons’ failure to score. “Pero hindi namin pwede sisihin ang strikers namin dahail madami kaming attempt pero hindi kami nakapag-convert. So yung solution lang namin is magpa-practice lang kami more on finishing, pati yung stikers namin mag-practice yung desire nila para sa goal.”
Probably the biggest reason of the Fighting Maroons’ lack of goals this season has been the absence of former star Jinggoy Valmayor, who has already finished his playing years. Clarino admitted that Valamayor has left a huge hole in UP’s squad, and that the Fighting Maroons need to work on their finishing. “Kahit wala si Jinggoy positive pa rin kami kasi a lot of the games namin, according to coach Anto, maganda. Pero yun nga nakakafrustrate dahil yung finishing namin mababa. About kay Jinggoy, siyempre malaki talaga siyang kawalan sa amin so kailangang mag-step up yung mga attacking (players) namin”, shared Clarino.
All of UP’s wins this season have mostly been by a solitary goal. It had only been the UE game where UP had scored more than one goal. It definitely hasn’t been smooth sailing for the Fighting Maroons, but the ability to grind out results has been a positive. However, Clarino stated that he and his teammates are hungry for more goals. “Namomotivate kami kasi based sa mga results namin, nagugutom pa rin kami. Parang bakit ganito yung result guys? Kailangan gutom pa rin tayo makakuha ng goal. Mas maganda pa nga gumawa kami ng goal na sa ten shots dapat may isang goal na. Winowork namin yun.”
“Siyempre as a defender magandang result yan pero siyempre based sa mga opportunity, nahihirapan kami mag-defend pero yun nga kulang sa finishing. It’s a sign sa part namin na ayaw namin ma-frustrate pero gusto namin talaga kumuha ng panalo kasi dami naming games na parang good game pero wala pa rin, 1-0, 0-0”, added Clarino.
Another positive for UP this season has been the performances of their rookies. Rookies like JB Borlongan, Nocnoc Cruz, and Raphael Resuma have brought great attacking play for UP, particularly on the flanks. Clarino has not been surprised by their impact, as they had left an impression on him when they tried out at UP. He added, “Every time na nagkakamali sila, hindi namin sila dinadown. Lagi namin sila minomotivate kasi alam namin mas kaya nila i-push ang sarili sa limit. Sila rin yung future ng Philippine football. Sila rin yung future ng UP.”
Clarino has been one of the consistent starters for the UP defense this season. Along from him, fellow center-back Patxi Santos and goalkeeper Ace Villanueva have developed a solid core at the heart of the UP backline. The Fighting Maroons have only conceded one goal this season, and that was in the loss to La Salle. He feels that this season’s defense was an improvement from the previous edition. “Para sa akin mas naging organized dahil maganda yung leadership ni Patxi (Santos) dahil isa siya sa seniors dito sa team. Pati salitan kami ng communication kaya maganda yung kinalabasan. Lalo na nag-work kami nung UNIGAMES. Talagang solid yung backline namin. Hindi naman sa pinagmamayabang pero one goal pa lang ang nacoconcede namin. Salo rin kami ni Ace (Villanueva). May tiwala kami sa isa’t-isa yung backline lalo na sa keeper namin. Alam namin may sasalo sa amin palagi.”
Rogie Maglinas’ passing due to illness rocked the Fighting Maroons before their season started. All their games are now dedicated to their former teammate, who has also served as an inspiration to them. With one more game in the first round against the resurgent University of Santo Tomas and another round of matches to go, expect Clarino and company to honor Maglinas in the best possible way. “May last game kami sa first round against UST. Ta-try namin mag finish strong tapos yung target namin this season, siyempre gusto namin more goals kahit wala na si Jinggoy Valmayor pati gusto namin magpakita sa tao na itong laro na ito ibibigay namin kay Rogie.”
Even if goals have been hard to come by this season for UP, the current batch of Fighting Maroons have ensured that a race to the championship is still possible. Other teams should be wary of a UP side that can score more goals, as Clarino and company aren’t easy to score against.