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Kaya-Iloilo wary of PFL field in Copa Alcantara defense

After two years that saw local football struggle to exist in the Philippines thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this month’s staging of the 2022 edition of the Copa Paulino Alcantara is a sign that the country is steadily climbing out of it and that the sport can finally maintain its momentum of growth.

Kaya-Iloilo, which reclaimed the crown last season with a 1-0 win over the Azkals Development Team, is looking to claim a third gold medal this season. The two-time winners will have another difficult campaign ahead of them as six other teams are looking to claim the first domestic crown of the year.

“It’s like we’re a new team,” said Kaya coach Yu Hoshide on his side’s off-season moves. “Communication is really important for us right now… As a group, we are almost not yet there. We still have practice and we can get there then finally we want to get the title.

“I think all clubs are preparing especially better than last year so… we cannot relax right now.”

Aside from Kaya, one of the definite favorites this year is reigning Philippines Football League champions United City.

Despite the big names in their lineup such as Arnie Pasinabo and Mark Hartmann, coach Frank Muescan is tempering expectations for his squad.

As part of the coaching staff, it’s really hard kase imagine our last game was last year July and then right now, how many months na we’re stuck up, as in nothing and then plus the fact na there were six players who left already. These are star players, these are quality players. So it’s really hard for us to start again,” said Muescan.

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“But yung vision kase ng UCFC right now is nag-shift na kami to really identify yung local talent para ma-expose sila sa competition outside in the Asian level. We make sure na yung stakeholder investment will be protected to grow and develop the football business. Yung strategy is clearly reflected on our new roster for 2022,” he continued.

“Kaya kung mapapansin mo lahat ng star players wala na. We’re taking this opportunity to gather a new team for 2022 with new faces but the same ambitions.”

For the newly-installed Azkals Development Team and Azkals Under-23 coach Norman Fegidero, this upcoming CPA is a great way to prepare for the upcoming 31st SEA Games, which will be held in Vietnam this May. While the deadline for the submission of names for the regional tourney is April, the 52-year-old mentor will definitely scout for qualified talent outside his current pool in the tourney.

“ADT will give you a good fight – that’s for sure,” said the Bacolod native.

“Even though this is only for exposure, I want my players to play to win. So watch out (for) the ADT. We’ll give you a good fight.”

A team that would really like to emerge as the champions of this year’s Copa is Stallion Laguna, whose last piece of silverware came in the form of the 2013 United Football League division one crown. Following last year’s third-place finish, coach Ernie Nierras wants his boys to go two steps forward and bag the gold.

“Our commitment (is) to develop local players and to progress every year to the ranks and see if we can challenge for spots in AFC… We ended the year on a high last year compared to how we started in 2020,” said Nierras. “So hopefully 2022 will be the year that we’re able to break into the slots that we have for AFC Champions League and the Cup.”

One club that is excited for its debut in the competition is Maharlika Manila.

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After missing out on last season’s affairs, the team is eager to make up for lost time and show that it belongs with the top contenders in the tournament.

“We’re very much looking forward to it,” said Azkals legend Anton del Rosario. “We put in a lot of time and effort not just these last few months but even last year to try and get a team ready and now we are very much looking forward to competing in the Copa.

“We have a pretty solid group of guys. We have revamped Maharlika with some additions and we think we’re really gonna come out and make sure that we compete and leave everything on the field. Maharlika is out here to be able to fight for that number one spot.”

When it comes to Dynamic Herb Cebu, the goal is to build on its impressive showing last year, which yielded a place in the semi-finals. After a great debut that yielded a fourth-placed finish, the players and coaches from the team simply want to go further than that.

“This year we want to do better than last year’s Copa,” said club skipper Baris Tasci. “We are having some changes in the players’ lineup and the coaching staff but maybe around 70 to 80 percent, the players are still the same.”

Lastly, Mendiola 1991 seeks to redeem itself after a dismal showing last year. It failed to notch a point in the group stage and suffered a harrowing 9-0 loss to the ADT. At the very least, things shouldn’t go that bad this time around.

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“We just started training three weeks ago,” said Mendiola player Hamed Hajihmadi. “But we have some new players and some players from 2019, who came back again to Mendiola… We just want to do something, not like last Copa. We had very bad results…

“I hope everything will go well for us.”

The CPA 2022 will kick off Monday when Kaya starts its title defense against Maharlika. That match shall be played at the PFF National Training Center in Carmona, Cavite, and it is scheduled to begin at 5:00 PM.

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