The University of the Philippines Lady Maroons might have the biggest chance of forcing a direct Final against the undefeated De La Salle University Lady Green Archers. They did that, but the full mission was not completed.
UP held on to their lead for almost 80 minutes, with only Shannon Arthur there to keep La Salle unblemished as the two protagonists shared the spoils, early Sunday evening at the McKinley Hill Stadium.
The Maroons’ game plan in the match was to maintain a high line and try to play on the counter-attack, and they executed from the get-go. After shutting down La Salle’s forwards and some miscommunication in potential build-up play, team captain Cristina Delos Reyes and winger BG Sta. Clara kept busy treading through the opposing defense, but national team skipper and DLSU keeper Inna Palacios gathered their shots.
In the 21st minute, La Salle finally got something going as Nicole Andaya found Kyla Inquig, who in turn passed to Arthur, but UP defender Marie Navea-Huff made a timely tackle to deny the goal. The Lady Green Booters attempted to mix it up on the offense, but the Lady Maroons gladly put them off with clearances.
UP then finally switched to attacking mode as several incursions into their final third showed some promise. Finally, in the 37th minute, the ladies in maroon gained a corner kick. Rookie Cassie Alleje sent a lovely ball inside the box, and Eloisa Malmis fired an attempt at the center. Palacios could not get to the ball in time as Sta. Clara tapped the ball into the back of the net to put the Maroons in the lead.
The Lady Green Archers were not devoid of runs at the UP goal, and with constant pressure, a Maroon foul was called and a free kick was called in a dangerous area. Arthur sent the ball directly towards the top of the goal and UP goalie AJ Javier mistimed her jump, allowing the ball in for the equalizer.
The score did not remain level for long, however, as two minutes after, Christille Ardiente won the ball from the back and sent a long forward pass to Delos Reyes. The former national team midfielder beat her defenders, the offside flag, and Palacios, to regain the lead for her squad going into the halftime break.
With their unbeaten streak on the line, La Salle increased their aggressiveness, as the Maroons showed no inclination to change up their defensive strategy. The pressure once again paid off for the white-shirts, resulting in a free kick, with Arthur missing from another direct shot. As time ran out, DLSU’s intensity ultimately bore fruit. In the 81st minute, Arthur found an opening on Javier’s left and lobbed the ball past the latter, and the match was levelled at 2 apiece.
La Salle were relentless even after the second goal, but UP’s desperate defending did them well in stoppage time. The final whistle was blown as UP forced a normal post-season setup: a one-off Final; only the draw still opened the door for the second championship berth among them, Far Eastern University, and Ateneo de Manila University.
Lady Green Booters Head Coach Hans Smit made no excuses for the result. “There is always an off day, and I believe this was our off day.” He also lamented on the non-call on Delos Reyes’ goal, which he perceived as offside.
On the other hand, UP Assistant Coach Tin Mendoza believes that they had played well in the first half, but the gameplan was not continued in the second. “In the second half, we did not press back. We allowed (Inquig) to create chances for her teammates,” she said.
The Lady Maroons will have their final game of the season on Saturday, 16th of April 4:00pm, while the Lady Archers will face the University of Santo Tomas Lady Booters on the same date at 7:00pm. Both matches will be held on McKinley Hill Stadium.