#1 De La Salle University Lady Archers vs #2 University of the Philippines Lady Maroons
How La Salle qualified:
After picking up a dramatic victory in the opening weekend of UAAP Season 78 football, the Lady Archers took the league by storm. Last year’s fourth-placed team followed up their morale-boosting win against Ateneo by recording astounding victories against last year’s champions FEU, 3-0. They also demolished UST, 6-0 before scraping past the UP Fighting Maroons, 2-0. By the end of the first round, the girls from Taft were poised to make a return to the final since Season 75.
As the gap between the second and fifth-placed teams was closer than it was between first-placed La Salle and second-placed UP, the Lady Archers had the chance to seal a place in the final with three games to spare. It required a combination of a win against Ateneo and third-placed FEU not winning against UP in the opening weekend of the second round. Determined to earn themselves a chance to battle for the crown as soon as possible, the team coached by Hans-Peter Smit edged closer by beating Ateneo again, 3-1. Ultimately, a 2-2 draw between UP and FEU meant that La Salle couldn’t be overtaken by two teams in the standings, hence guaranteeing them a place in the final. Once qualification was ensured the Lady Archers preserved the unbeaten record to finish with the best tally among the five teams in the league.
How UP qualified:
The Lady Maroons had a more turbulent season compared to their final opponents, but it’s safe to say that they’ll be entering the curtain closer as the more confident team. Winning their first two games, UP had momentum snapped when they lost back-to-back games against FEU and La Salle. It put them in a precarious situation approaching the second round; but like the fighters that they are, the Lady Maroons responded well amidst adversity.
It all began in the second round when they staged a comeback to beat UST, 3-1. An entertaining 2-2 draw against FEU may not have been an ideal result to succeed the win against the Tigresses, but it reflected how the team had improved from a dismal first round. Another 2-2 draw against La Salle strengthened their case, almost beating the Lady Archers had it not been for Shannon Arthur’s timely strikes. In a good position to return to the final, they withstood Ateneo’s challenge to guarantee a DLSU-UP final for only the second time in the league’s history.
The case for La Salle:
Living up to their moniker, the Lady Archers are bannered by the league’s best attacking force. Considering the fact that the top three scorers in the competition are playing for DLSU, the three-pronged attack will serve as the team’s backbone in the offensive end. Come the final, it would be important for La Salle to put their chances away as early as possible in order for them to control the game’s rhythm.
A testament to how potent the La Salle strike force has been is the ability of at least one in the trio of Sara Castañeda, Kyla Inquig, and Shannon Arthur to find the back of the net in every game played in Season 78. The girls up front for DLSU combined for 19 of the team’s 23 goals, highlighting their significance in La Salle’s return to the final. La Salle’s attacking strength comes mainly from them, but opponents also had difficulty dealing with crosses, deliveries, and incursions made by their teammates such as Irish Navaja, Chelo Hodges and Nicole Andaya.
La Salle’s fluid attack is attributed to their excellent execution of the passing game. Once they get to hold the ball, the ladies in green and white break defenses down with the combination of nifty passes and clever dribbling inside the attacking third. Usually, it works as opposing defenders clamp down one or two players while leaving some of them wide open. It would then take just one good pass to put the ball into the net which has been the case at least once in all of La Salle’s games. Their finals opponents UP are surely aware of this, but it has been so effective that it may still do the trick in their third meeting this season.
Down the other end, La Salle may not be as prolific as their counterparts on offense but they sure know how to keep opponents silent. Angge Metillo, once an attack-minded midfielder, has been converted as a center back by Coach Hans-Peter Smit. In her new role, Metillo had delivered as she provides the grit in the back four. The emergence of Mary Duran also made playing along the wings more challenging as her ball-winning skills have been top notch this season. Inna Palacios is the woman between the sticks, offering the much-needed presence whenever the back four is breached. By the looks of it, La Salle has the best team on paper and are tipped to win it all by many this season.
The case for UP:
In their second consecutive finals appearance, the UP Lady Maroons are a more experienced, hungrier bunch of players hoping to make things right this time around. Their season has had its ups and downs, but what may matter more in the end is how this team sustains its momentum heading to the final tomorrow. The ladies coached by Anto Gonzales didn’t have the brightest of starts but their recent games suggest that they are certainly no pushovers and would definitely be the team that would give DLSU a run for their money.
With the “perfect effort” philosophy in mind, Gonzales expressed utter frustration for much of the first round. Despite getting two wins in their first two games, the UP tactician lamented at how their players performed. His dissatisfaction was reflected even more in losses to FEU and La Salle, noting that his team hasn’t been meeting their objectives at all halfway through the season.
The direction then changed for the better as the Lady Maroons got to play the way they wanted to. Using pace to dismantle defenses and discipline at the back to fend off attacks, UP gained rhythm as they had broken away from the chasing pack. Mary Rose Obra and BG Sta. Clara were the key figures on offense as their movements in and around the box had opponents confused and on their toes. Supporting them is Cristina delos Reyes who regularly provide quality passes to the deadly duo. Help from the likes of Marie Huff, Aira Agustin, and Molly Manalansan has also made UP a stronger force as these ladies have the resolve to take the fight away from the opponents in the middle of the field and recycle it into a surge of their own.
In addition to the veterans’ efforts, the emergence of rookies Cassie Alleje, Eloisa Malmis and Eloiza Fagsao will definitely come handy in the final. Playing in just their first season, the youngest set of Lady Maroons have illustrated how much they had grown over the course of the season. As most of them are stationed on the defensive side of the rotation, their contributions particularly in the second round have made UP a sturdier team against attack-minded sides like DLSU. Should the Maroons hold their own at the back against the Lasallians, then there’s no reason for them to believe that they can’t take the crown for themselves.
Why La Salle might lose
If there’s anything that may take away the glitz and the glamour of La Salle’s incredible season, it would be their floundering form towards the end of the elimination round. Displaying uncharacteristic performances relative to this season’s standards, La Salle had to work doubly hard to earn the five points they picked up in the last three games. Teams that they blanked in the first round-UP, UST, and FEU-may have just exposed La Salle’s Achilles heel in the second round.
If not for Arthur’s heroics, La Salle may have easily capitulated to the much-improved UP side in comparison to the same team they faced earlier in the season. The win against UST was quite routine, although the Tigresses stood their ground and even got themselves a late consolation goal. Lastly, the draw against the Lady Tamaraws was a careless one as they let it slip off their hands.
Smit has reiterated over the course of the season that La Salle’s biggest problem would be their attitude on the pitch. He believes that the recent struggle is a result of some individuals’ flawed approach to the game. Having proven to everyone that they have what it takes to beat anyone in the league, the Lady Archers must also prove to their coach that they won’t let themselves be the architects of their downfall. Otherwise, a UP team growing in confidence may just take advantage of their decline.
Why UP might lose
Facing a ferocious La Salle front line, UP’s defensive record does not bode well for last year’s runners-up. Conceding at least a goal in all but one game this year indicates that there are issues needed to be addressed by that the Lady Maroons on defense. If not for their firepower up top, the girls from Diliman may be somewhere else while tomorrow’s final is ensuing.
As the cliché defense wins championships hints, teams aspiring for the title should be fortified at the back. For much of UP’s season, this wasn’t the case. It’s not the worst back line out there, but in what has been an inconsistent season, it’s how they’ve defended that remains constant. The games against La Salle and FEU highlight their deficiencies. Facing these teams in the first round, the Lady Maroons allowed their foes to score early. One thing a team has to avoid in occasions like a final is going down early. Loose marking paired by opponents’ good passing rhythm caught UP off guard as early goals by Sharmine Siaotong and Kyla Inquig have demonstrated.
In the second round, it appeared as if they’ve already resolved the issue. Crowding opponents out of the dangerous areas seemed to have improved UP’s fortunes against the two mentioned teams but the lapses caused by tentative movements led to avoidable opportunities their FEU and DLSU counterparts converted from. Playing in the final, the Lady Maroons can’t afford to make the same errors or else another silver medal may be hanging on their necks after the match.
In the teams’ first meeting, La Salle dictated the tempo of the game early on. Kyla Inquig’s brilliant strike inside the first seven minutes placed DLSU in control throughout the opening half. The Lady Maroons played livelier in the second half of the affair, maximizing their pace with the hopes of unsettling the formidable Lady Archers’ defense. They huffed and puffed to no avail as failure to truly breach La Salle’s goal exhausted them towards the end. A beautiful late strike from La Salle’s Castañeda formally sealed the victory for the then in-form Lady Archers.
Playing the first game since securing their place in the final, La Salle was given a tough time by the UP team then hoping to join them on the center stage. Clearly the team that wanted it more, the Lady Maroons went ahead courtesy of Sta. Clara’s effort in the first half. Arthur restored parity soon after with a conversion from a free kick, but it did little to derail the beaten Season 77 finalists. Delos Reyes immediately regained the advantage for UP, setting up a tense second half. Battling an upset, the Lady Archers pursued an equalizer in the second half and their persistence was duly rewarded when Arthur bagged her second to save her team from the jaws of what might have been an inaugural defeat.
Throughout the season, the Lady Archers have always found the back of the net at least once. The level of performance may have dwindled a bit as far as recent results indicate, yet every time La Salle faced some kind of adversity in this season they were able to provide an answer. Brimming with confidence and approaching the final with the immense desire to go one better than last year’s finish, UP will definitely bring the fight in their hunt for the university’s first ever women’s football title.
Taking the numbers into account, a 2-1 DLSU win in normal time appears to be the most likely outcome. Backing this prediction is La Salle’s explosive display in attack, scoring an average of almost three goals per game (2.88 to be exact). In addition, they netted twice in both matches against UP this season. The Lady Maroons, on the other hand, are in fine form themselves and have found the net on an average of exactly two goals per game. Against La Salle, however, the goals rate is just at one per match.
With both teams having the capability to score regularly, it may boil down to who has the better defense on the day. DLSU managed three clean sheets versus UP’s one and the dominance is further displayed when it comes to net goals per game. La Salle outscored opponents by almost two goals in each match (1.88 to be exact), while UP have a meager 0.5 net goals lead inside every 90 minutes of play. Those numbers clearly suggest that it is DLSU’s for the taking, but if UP takes the lead first then the advantage would simply swing their way. UP has yet to lose a game whenever they opened the scoring, but had lost every time they went 1-0 behind. With that pointed out, the first goal will definitely be crucial in this blockbuster finale. With goals come plenty of excitement, certainly offering an enjoyable spectacle to partisan and neutral spectators alike.