One of the more prominent local players in the women’s football circuit these past few years has been midfielder Sara Castaneda.
From her exploits growing up playing for Makati Football Club and La Salle, alongside her performances as part of the Philippine Women’s National Football Team – Castaneda has been one of the stars of this growing sector of Philippine sports.
In the recently-concluded AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022, the De La Salle Lady Archer was essentially the PWNFT’s first option off the bench as she came on as a substitute in four games and played as a starter once in the country’s five-game campaign.
“I might have not started but for me, it doesn’t really matter, because in the end all of us, we all have our own roles, we all played a part in being there,” said the 25-year-old central-midfielder. “So, I guess just in training, just giving it your all.
“That’s what I did.”
The two-time UAAP champion’s debut in the competition came at the 70th minute against Thailand when she and Carleigh Frilles came on for skipper Tahnai Annis and Jessica Miclat. She was on the pitch when forward Chandler McDaniel scored at the 81st minute to set the Filipinas on their way towards a maiden win against the Thais.
“It’s pretty cool like I would not have expected it.
“Before, we always had the belief that we could beat Thailand and everything, but for that to actually happen? Wow, we actually did it! Same also with making it into the World Cup,” said Castaneda.
The De La Salle Zobel alumna’s solitary start in the tournament came in the glamorous group stage fixture against Australia. Up against big names such as Sam Kerr, Castaneda and her teammates could have easily folded but they managed to keep the game goalless until the 50th minute.
“I was a little bit nervous, but then I tried to treat it like any other game.
“I tried not to really think about that, like them being a super high-profile team, and treat it like any other game. So, just like I do in all the other games, it’s just what I have to do in that game,” she said.
Her biggest contribution yet to the national team came against Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinals. Coming on at the 110th minute of extra time, Castaneda was one of the country’s five designated spot-kick takers.
She calmly slotted home her attempt at the top-right corner and celebrated with her trademark childlike smile while returning to her teammates.
“Like for all the penalties, even you know, like the UAAP (Season 79 finals) penalty. Obviously, I was nervous, to begin with, but then after a while, I was able to come myself down, and yeah, so like UAAP,” said the two-time Best Midfielder awardee.
Aside from the McDaniel sisters, Sara and her sister, Anicka, form the other sibling pairing in the latest edition of the PWNFT. Despite not yet representing La Salle in the UAAP, the younger Castaneda made four substitute appearances for coach Alen Stajcic’s team throughout their stay in India.
“This isn’t the first time that I have played with her for the national team.
“It is just nice for her to play again, especially coming from an injury and then all these other issues with school because she hasn’t played there yet. So, I was just thankful na Coach Hans gave her the opportunity to play with us, even though she hasn’t played UAAP yet,” said the older Castaneda.
As a product of the UAAP, she and her fellow local players have been sidelined since there is no local league, to begin with. The country’s top commercial league, the PFF Women’s League, has yet to turn pro – which prevents it from operating amidst the pandemic. It is factors such as these that derail the careers of locals considering that women’s football is just growing.
“UAAP definitely helped, like, because it was our only outlet to play football. So, yeah, UAAP really helped us. It was a little bit hard, like for sila Annika, Tara (Shelton) – both of them are from La Salle and there’s no UAAP, so they don’t really have training now,” said Castaneda.
“So, UAAP really helped us, especially in the past, in all the other tournaments ‘cos we always had something to train in the Philippines. You have another team to play with and to train with in the Philippines for like the whole year. So, it is professional-ish, but the school version. So, yeah, it really helped us especially with training.”
There is no telling what the future holds for Castaneda in terms of her PWNFT career considering that competition for places will surely heat up in time for the World Cup.
Whatever happens, though, she has proven that it is indeed possible for players who have come from the local development system to compete against the top opponents of Asia.