The Lasallian community celebrated a double win over arch-nemesis Ateneo de Manila University in the opening weekend of the UAAP Men’s and Women’s Football Championships. Accomplishing a proud feat, DLSU Coach Hans Smit hailed his players’ unwavering character to overcome the challenge given to them by their Atenean foes.
“We didn’t let up this time,” Smit expressed after the ladies’ match. The Sunday rivalry spectacle began with the Lady Archers digging deep to win against the Lady Eagles, 4-3. It was followed by a heart-pounding 3-1 triumph by the Green Archers over their rival Blue Eagles.
First-game jitters may have been normal, but Smit was surprised to notice that his seniors appeared more nervous than the rookies. Regardless of who feels jittery, he hopes it doesn’t get to them in their next matches, since he believes it hampers their game. “When you get nervous, that helps in getting cramps. They should be more relaxed in next games,” the reputable coach suggested.
Another issue Smit hopes to resolve is the team’s attitude. The Lady Archers won the second half with the score of 3-1 and the coach attributed the success to attitude adjustment. “I told them it’s just attitude. In the second half, as you can see, we had more possession,” Smit elaborated. With control of the game, the ladies were able to play to the tune of their liking. It led to decisive moments, particularly when Kyla Inquig and Shannon Arthur teamed up to score a go-ahead goal at 3-2.
He, erstwhile, appreciated the contributions of the rookies who had a hand in three of their four goals. Arthur had a goal and two assists to her name, while Sarah Castañeda awed the crowd with her impressive command of the midfield. To cap her outstanding debut, she came up big by scoring the last-minute winner. “They’re rookies but I can say that they’re veterans [with their performances],” Smit shared.
For the men’s team, Smit heaped praise after having nicked a 3-1 result against last year’s beaten semifinalists Ateneo. The Lasallians found the back of the net in the game’s final four minutes. Jiggs Cruz announced his debut with a solo dribbling effort along the left flank, resulting in a deflected goal. Skipper Gelo Diamante secured the points in added time with a header from Gregory Yang’s free kick. Yang had also scored from a set piece in the first half but it had been abruptly cancelled by Christian Castillo whose header came from a cross by Mikko Mabanag halfway through the first half.
Regarding his late-game adjustments, Smit revealed that it had all been part of the plan to shift the game back to their favor. “I was timing their entry. I just told Cruz to do his stuff. He is an impact player, that’s what I can say,” the La Salle coach declared. In the latter part of the second half, Smit sent on rookies Cruz and Javi Romero-Salas to change the complexion of the encounter and they did just that.
For his part, Cruz had been oriented about the plan and embraced the role nicely. “I was just hoping to get in as soon as possible,” he shared. Overall, Cruz got 12 minutes of playing time, which seemed enough for him to change the game. In the future, Cruz prioritizes helping the team the most. “I hope I get more time but it’s a team effort. I’ll take what can get and do what I can,” he vowed.
An issue Smit also tackled in preparation for this match was building a makeshift defense to cover for the loss of starting center-back Nicko Villacin. Last year’s most played defender suffered an injury a month ago and had only rejoined training a week or two earlier according to Smit. “I had to shift Ybañez [a fullback] to the center with Brago because the other players are not game fit. Eksperimento lang ‘yan,” the DLSU coach bared. The players had weeks to adapt to their new roles and it seems to have worked well for the Taft squad. “They held back naman. There were some mistakes, it just so happened na maganda naman ang bawi,” Smit encouragingly assessed.
Team captains Inna Palacios and Gelo Diamante were buoyed by their teams’ magnificent victories over their rivals in blue. Aside from bragging rights, these gave the Lasallians a wonderful start to Season 78.
“I could say that I’m really proud because the team didn’t give up and it’s very important for me to see my teammates fighting ‘till the end because it shows their character,” Palacios commented after the match. The win, however, brought up some issues in defense. Moving forward, Palacios hopes to see it become more formidable. “We really have to improve on our defensive formation. Hopefully, it [conceding three goals] won’t happen in our next few games,” the fourth year skipper said.
Her batchmate in the men’s team and fellow captain Gelo Diamante also expressed delight not just with the result, but that they had also played the way they intended to. “We played our hearts out. All the training we did, I saw it. We weren’t just playing, we were creating the game,” the now elder Diamante reckoned. He added that he felt happy to share the moment with another sibling in the form of Jed, who played in his first ever UAAP match.
Playing his first match as captain, Diamante thinks it’s a big responsibility to lead the team. Nonetheless, he stressed, “I’m just the guy with the armband. Everyone’s playing [for the team].”
Both matches were decided by moments of brilliance towards the conclusion of the match. Arthur’s cross to Castañeda came in added time, while Cruz’s game-changing dribble happened a minute before injury time.
Meanwhile, the Green Archers nearly squandered the match wherein they briefly led. Emilio Acosta was set to put the Blue Eagles ahead with six minutes to go in the game, but the forward saw his attempt saved by Paeng de Guzman. Moments later, Cruz and G. Diamante scored the goals to bury the Blue Eagles.
Captain Diamante highlighted the contribution of de Guzman to the victory, saying, “He changed the game for us. He gave us more motivation to score the winning goals.” Regarded as one of the best goalkeeping talents in the country by his coach, de Guzman does not want to get the positive comments into his head. Rather, he merely felt the need to atone for the mistake he had made that led to the goal. “I asked for forgiveness to Coach Hans because I know it was really my fault. That’s why I just played my heart out with that penalty shot and I saved it,” last year’s best goalkeeper narrated.
While Smit felt overwhelmingly proud of his players, he does not wish for every game to be this dramatic. “Hopefully it doesn’t happen this way because I don’t think my heart can take it,” the boss, who had also experienced it with DLSZ, quipped.
This weekend, another set of character-testing battles will take place for DLSU football. The Green Archers will return to action on Saturday as they face an inspired University of the Philippines team, in what promises to be a great skirmish between the two traditional powerhouses in the league. Kick off is set at 7pm. It would succeed the DLSU-FEU women’s match scheduled at 4pm, which would provide another challenge for the upbeat Lady Archers.
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