CARMONA, CAVITE — Coming into the 2020 season of the PFL sponsored by Qatar Airways, the expectations for Maharlika Manila were that the old guns would carry the load for the team.
While the squad is composed of familiar names in the local football scene, the team wasn’t expected to make waves in its maiden campaign.
All that changed, though, when Maharlika came from behind to win 2-1 against Stallion Laguna last Saturday at the PFF National Training Center — thanks to goals from Jose Montelibano and Jeremy Theuer.
“First and foremost, we deserve to be in this league, and we showed it on the pitch. Each player on our team knows what’s on the line and the opportunity that was given to us. So each game, we go in with our hearts on our sleeves,” said the 26-year-old Theuer.
“Especially in the second half, we gained a lot more confidence on the ball and were able to build on it as the game went on. We trusted each other more and more importantly we trusted ourselves. Another positive that we can take from this game is that we have players on the bench who can come on, bring in the energy and do the job.”
When Ibrahim N’Dour gave Stallion the lead in the 28th minute, it looked like deja vu for Maharlika since the latter was coming from a 0-1 defeat to Kaya-Iloilo.
But then the insertion of Montelibano and Theuer changed the complexion of the contest.
“To be honest, despite our loss on opening day, I think it was a decent result for the whole club. It was the first-ever game for our club and the first time our team actually played a game together,” explained Montelibano, 27.
“The team atmosphere is incredible. We’re all in this together. The coaches, the staff, the management, the players, and the fans. Yeah, we lost our first game. But coming into our game against Stallion and going 1-0 down in the first half, we had complete trust in our coaches and they really made us believe that we could turn this around.”
Montelibano came on in the 49th minute of the match in place of fellow De La Salle alumnus Carl Amisola. He scored four minutes later.
Likewise, Theuer came on for MJ Libre and struck the winning goal after two minutes.
Every coach hopes their substitutions can change the game, but it is quite rare to have two players to join the fray and produce the goods in that fashion.
“It was a great feeling. Coming off the bench, it’s our responsibility to help the team in whatever situation, be it scoring a goal, defending, or anything to lift the spirit of the team. I felt that Jeremy and I were able to do that,” said Montelibano.
“I was ecstatic. Since day one, our coaches have been telling the players who weren’t on the starting lineup, that we shouldn’t see ourselves as substitutes but as game-changers. And as you guys saw, it stuck to us. The subs that were made, made an immediate impact. We know what we’re capable of and we’re just happy that we were able to come on and help the team win the game against Stallion,” opined Theuer.
On a personal level, the two players made history as the first goalscorers of Maharlika in the PFL. It always feels great to get that monkey off your back and what a time to do so. In a compressed tournament, every player needs to step up.
“It’s a great feeling. To be honest, I can’t really wrap my head around it. I was put in to help lift the team and I was happy to do my responsibility, just like everyone else. It could’ve been any one of us. I guess I was just lucky it was me,” said Montelibano.
For Theuer, in particular, his strike vindicated all the hard work he put in to get back on the pitch. It is always easier to quit because of injuries, but all those trials make the comeback worth it in the end.
“As everyone saw during my celebration that this goal meant a whole lot personally and for the team. I have been out of the game for three years due to an injury I got back in 2017. It affected me deeply, and I didn’t know if I would be able to suit up and play in the PFL again,” said Filipino-German Theuer.
“But as time went by, I knew football was missing in my life, and I wanted to get back to playing. And [then] this opportunity to play in the PFL came knocking. I took it as a sign, and I wasn’t going to let it pass by,” he continued.
“Scoring the winning goal on my debut was something special, and a feeling that I will never forget. I’ve missed this feeling, and it’s something I don’t want to let go of any time soon. To put it into simple words: pure joy.”
Up next for Maharlika is a huge game against United City FC on Tuesday.
It shall be another difficult test for Maharlika, but the team has shown that it is willing to suffer tremendously to earn the victory.
“The biggest factor that pushes our team is the opportunity to play the sport we all love. And with that being said, I think we all relish the chance to step on that field and give everything we got,” said Montelibano.
“This team is here to prove something, and helping our team grab our first win of the season and seeing all the faces of my teammates and coaches, man… This is what football is about. This is why we love this sport,” closed Theuer.