The University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons have had an inconsistent start to their UAAP Season 78 Men’s Football Tournament campaign. The Fighting Maroons drew their first game of the season against the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, lost a tight affair with the De La Salle Green Archers, and finally won at the expense of the University of the East Red Warriors.
One observable problem with the Fighting Maroons this season was their current lack of firepower in attack. The end of Jinggoy Valmayor’s UAAP eligibility has led to a lack of goals, and they currently have a record of two goals in three games.
While UP’s attack had to be developed in light of Valmayor’s exit, the same cannot be said for the central defense, as Patxi Santos and Ian Clarino have provided a solid base from the back with just one goal conceded so far.
At the end of the Fighting Maroons’ match against UE, Santos spoke like a relieved man since his team had finally gotten three points. “We’ve been working hard for this and we know from now on we’re going to keep doing what we know we can do which is to show really good performances.”
Santos felt that the first two games had been a wake-up call for UP, but added that the Fighting Maroons knew they’d had it in themselves to win those games. In the end, it was all about recovery and hard work. “We all told each other that we need to bounce back and to win because we’ve been showing pre-season that we have what it takes to win.”
It’s been a new start for Santos this season, as he has been moved to center-back from his past right-back position in what could be a permanent move. Santos explained, “the reason for that is coach (Anto Gonzales) wants me to organize the middle. He thinks that it’s best for me to do that to help organize the team, to lead the team being in the center, center-back. “
Right-backs go forward to provide width and create goalscoring opportunities for their teammates. Santos admitted he missed his former position but knew his talents had to be positioned elsewhere. “My number one interest right now is to do whatever I can to help the team the most which is to organize.”
Just three games into the season, Santos pointed out some facets to UP’s game which needed improvement. He said, “I think we need to polish our attacks. One of the bigger concerns right now is most of the time we hold possession but when we get the ball up front we weren’t able to convert those attempts into goals. I think we can work on that throughout the next few games and also to remain secure defensively because we still have some errors at the back that we can make sure doesn’t happen again.”
If there has been one positive for UP early in Season 78, it is that the Fighting Maroons’ rookies have stepped up early in their stint for UP. Santos called them the best batch of rookies their team has had and praised their skillfulness. “They know that they have the capacity to help the team, to help bring UP into the championship (game). So I think what they’re doing is pushing themselves and I think all the seniors also expect a lot from them so we all push them.”
UP coach Gonzales has noted in the past that Valmayor and his batchmates, who have exited the UAAP landscape, were also the leaders of the Fighting Maroons. As is the cyclical nature of collegiate sports, others now have to step up the plate in behalf of their past comrades. Aside from captain Daniel Gadia, expect Santos to be one of the players who makes sure that the Fighting Maroons’ standards do not drop this Season 78.