The season isn’t even at its halfway point, but Season 77’s been heating up. Last year’s runners-up UP are heading the pack, Ateneo, who fell from grace last season after finishing a dismal seventh, are on their way to erasing last year’s painful memories at second place. Last year’s kings FEU meanwhile are sitting at fourth, having suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of the up and coming dark horses National U.
With the Christmas break coming to an end and the action on the pitch ready to resume, we here at Tiebreaker Times decided to take some time to give recognition to the league’s most brilliant performers so far and put the spotlight on the 11 players on the field we’d pick if UAAP football had its own all-star game.
In choosing the players, we went with the 3-4-3 formation. It puts three players in front of the goalkeeper, quite central in position with the opportunity for movement along the sides. Four midfielders are situated across the pitch with two on the wings and two in the middle. Up front, there are three forwards. They may occupy the central areas or stretch the attack by leaving one in the center and the two near the flanks.
And so with much pride and no bias do we present who we think are the best XI for the first portion of the UAAP Season 77 Men’s Football championship. Let’s start by discussing about the people at the back.
Before we go to the main selection, we took note of other players who have distinguished themselves as top-caliber players in the league but did not make the cut for our all-star team.
Lendon Clores (UE), Carl Viray (AdU)
Yes, UE and Adamson have been on the wrong end of some lopsided results so far in the season but their goalkeepers are considered to have greatly performed after playing five games in UAAP Season 77. Clores and Viray may have never kept clean sheets yet their ability to stop shots and intelligence in positioning inside their areas has helped them give away less goals. What undermines their status in the league, however, is the number of goals scored against them. Nonetheless, it should be remembered that defending is a shared responsibility.
Both of their teams struggled in 2014, but it should make opposing players and coaches less complacent. One good overall performance twinned to a positive result against one of the top teams may just bolster their chances in entering the Final Four.
Albert Casil (NU), Jeremiah Rocha (ADMU), Joshua Mulero (FEU)
All three belong to the top five teams of the league at the end of 2014. Casil has the urgency every coach would probably want each of his defenders to have. Mulero imposes his way against rampaging forwards en route to making errors in their attacking third. Rocha makes timely movement to thwart forwards from advancing deeper into the Ateneo half. To improve their teams’ title charges, these three mighty men at the back need to be more stable. A good run of form would make their teammates more comfortable on the attack.
More than who made the most clean tackles or who was the most aggressive on the pitch, we took time to picking the defenders whose performances on the field translated to few conceded goals from their squad. Without further ado, here are the players we like best on defense.
Ace Villanueva (UP)
The State U’s main man between the sticks kept his team solid at the back in their first five games of the season. After five games, the Maroons have only given away two goals–one of them a penalty. The disciplined goalkeeper is an intimidating figure right from the first minute of the season. His smart positioning and excellent command of the Maroons defense made it hard for their foes to get the ball past the reliable goalie.
The UP goalkeeper is also worthy of praise for his consistency. Even in their lone loss of the season that came against Ateneo, the UP custodian displayed fine form and was unlucky not to take a clean sheet after Carlo Liay’s penalty attempt went past him. Before that goal, Ace was busy for most of the first half, as he made good saves such as Mikko Mabanag’s spot kick. Brilliance never seems to fade away from Villanueva which makes him the finest goalkeeper after four and a half rounds of UAAP Season 77 football.
Most teams would probably wish to have the luxury of having him in their team. In the coming weeks, a marquee clash against FEU sets up Villanueva, who may just have his busiest game of the season against the attack-minded champions.
In the solid UP defense, Villanueva has grabbed his share of the plaudits. His stellar showing has paid dividends, but he is not the only Isko to have displayed exemplary form at the back.
Patxi Santos and Albert Yatco (UP)
UP’s feared defensive unit has been averaging a remarkable 0.4 goals per 90 minutes, the only team in the league that has played more games than goals conceded so far. While Ace Villanueva has emerged to be the goalie to look out for in the season, credit also goes to the Maroons’ fearsome defense, especially Patxi Santos and Albert Yatco, the fullbacks manning the flank.
The fearsome duo’s dominance in the back was proven in UP’s year-ending blowout victory over Adamson, where the Falcons were held to a dismal two shots in the first half, neither on goal. The UP duo are quick on their feet to chase down every enemy attacker looking to set up a goal, and do their job disrupting the enemy midfield’s flow. Their defensive presence sets the groundwork for UP’s feared counterattack, as their effective passing and ability to communicate with their friends in the midfield facilitate the steady transition from defense and offense. More importantly, this has helped UP avoid most of their opponents from building up their attacks on the wings.
The Maroon defenders are of great help to UP’s early season charge. Likewise, a young man from the other side of the city has been enormous for his team this season.
Nicholas Villacin (DLSU)
Out of the many center backs in the league, Nicholas Villacin stood out in 2014. Quickly, the La Salle center back is building a formidable reputation in the league. His performances against big teams UP and FEU fortified La Salle’s resistance in the process. Against the Season 76 finalist squads, Villacin controlled the middle of the back line that hindered the offense of his teams’ opponents. His steady game provides assurance that enables the La Salle backline to play a high line. This was evident in their matches against Adamson and UE.
His best moment of the season came versus UP, stifling Jinggoy Valmayor in the process. Villacin also made the list for being one of the league’s most consistent center backs. Some teams have decent players in front of the goalkeeper but the Lasallian is in fine form throughout the opening four-game stretch. If not for him, La Salle may arguably no longer sport an unbeaten record. For them to keep that, Villacin needs to continue his good form at the center of La Salle’s defense.
There may only be three defenders in this selection, but the stability all of them provide makes it a difficult task to break them down. UP has the best defensive record in the league while Villacin resembles a perfect fit at center back. Combined, the three backs and a goalkeeper like Villanueva establish a fortified wall that would require immense effort to squeeze past against. — Brian Tamayao, Aidan Manglinong, and RJ Co