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 our Best XI for the first portion of the UAAP Season 77 Men’s Football championship. To round up the lineup, we offer you our insights on the UAAP’s best forwards.
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.
Emilio Acosta (ADMU), Gelo Diamante (DLSU), Jhan Jhan Melliza (FEU), Daniel Gadia (UP)
Acosta, Diamante, Melliza, and Gadia have all scored this season and have been substantially contributing to their respective teams.
Always a part of the Blue Booters’ offensive attacks, Emilio Acosta has been great at picking his spots and getting free from his defenders through a month of UAAP football action. If not for his tendency to be called for offsides, he would have made our list of forwards/attacking mids. Despite this tendency, Emilio has been an important piece in Ateneo’s offense backed up by his two-goal rich haul.
Gelo Diamante has the makings to be one of the premier scorers in the league. On his third year, he has been doing a little bit of everything when it comes to offense. An integral part of the Hans Smit-coached De La Salle Men’s Football Team, the younger of the renowned Diamante brothers has been great with attacks and has continuously been putting opposing defenders on the edge. The only setback we see from Diamante is decision making, as he has the tendency to make bad decisions at crucial moments in the game. An improvement in that area may translate into more Gelo Diamante goals for La Salle.
Jhan Jhan Melliza, the best striker awardee for the past two seasons, has not been at his best this season with only one goal under his name. Even though Jhan-Jhan has struggled, it is commendable how he has been all over the offensive third of the pitch. Melliza has never stopped creating chances for himself and continues to be a threat and merits recognition on that accord. A more efficient performance will propel Melliza back to where he belongs- on top.
Despite being a substitute in their initial games, Daniel Gadia has been a spark plug for the UP Maroons. In his starting debut against Adamson, Gadia displayed his offensive prowess and athleticism that eventually led to a goal for his team. In times when fellow Maroon Jinggoy Valmayor suffers a slump, Gadia renews the team’s energy and increases their intensity on the offensive end. Hopefully, we’ll see Gadia unleashed in the coming games.
And now, we head on to the boys in charge of getting numbers on the scoreboard quite regularly. Like we said earlier, the spoils of war will probably go to the side that racks up the most goals this season. In 2014, the three men listed here are the deadliest men up front.
Jinggoy Valmayor (UP)
A proven goalscorer, Valmayor opened UAAP Season 77 by scoring all four of UP’s goals in the first three games en route to a strong seven-point record. The renowned UP striker may have had his foot off the gas heading into the last two games of 2014 but his contributions on the attacking third are simply vital.
Earlier this season, Valmayor humbly suggested that he may not have pocketed the goals had it not been for a fine midfield that supplied him the ball quite often. Yet, it took a fifth game for UP’s other players to prove that Valmayor is not the only goalscorer in their squad. Without the decisive runs and finishing touches of Valmayor, the Maroons would have slipped into sixth place with only three points to their tally.
His presence may not always convert to goals but the importance of having Valmayor up front has to be underscored, especially for a talented team like UP. After all, it only takes one good chance for reputable strikers like Valmayor to rediscover his red-hot form in the opening stretch of the campaign.
Valmayor relishes a return to the finals where he has never missed a trip to in his decorated UAAP career. While he aims for that, a budding superstar is starting to show his full potential for a very young team.
Paolo Salenga (NU)
When you think of the NU Men’s Football team, you think of Paolo Salenga. One cannot ignore how this U21 national team player has led NU. With four goals under his name, Salenga has been the key cog, the top Bulldog to watch whenever the NU team goes to the pitch.
What makes Paolo impressive is his aggressiveness and placing in offense. It is integral to note that Paolo is the usual suspect when it comes to drawing first blood. Against teams like Ateneo and FEU, Paolo immediately found the space he needed on offense and scored to put pressure on the said teams, and lead NU to a draw (against ADMU) and what most people call an “upset” win (against last year’s champions FEU) that had a lot of football fans buzzing.
Salenga has the qualities of a striker that a lot of teams are looking for: great spacing, athleticism and amazing finishing skills. NU is in a place they want to be and if Salenga continues his mean streak of scoring, they will most definitely continue to rise and surprise more teams and fans this season.
The NU striker has made a name for himself in the league. His improvement is duly noted by players and followers alike. In his third season, he has transformed into a vicious finisher for the Bulldogs. Just around the corner, another young man is rapidly grabbing attention. Only in his second year, the new kid on the block offers to sharpen UST’s teeth up front.
Steven Anotado (UST)
The current leading scorer in the league with six goals to his name in five fixtures, Anotado’s skill as a striker need not be debated, at least not after his hat-trick against UE that gave the UST booters a little extra something to be merry about this Christmas.
Anotado has so far displayed the qualities possessed by any great striker: the athleticism to escape defenders and get himself into position to strike from wherever he finds it comfortable on the pitch, the presence of mind to spot openings in the defense and get into position to receive every through pass and cross, and the power and accuracy to send balls flying past the keeper and into the net. His productive aggression as a forward and clinical finishing make him one of the most potent offensive threats for any team in the league.
The Tigers may not be where they’d rather be this early in the season, but the rest of the league could be in for a surprise should this young man find himself in the mood for delivering another shootout.
It would be a nightmare for any defense to go against three lethal finishers. Containing one forward is already a tall task, so having two more would be immensely demanding. Thankfully for them, the trio are donning different colors, preventing a horrifying monopoly of top strikers. Although other players can score too, the men up front are tagged as the most dangerous for putting the ball into the back of the net. It just goes to show that in a sport where scoring at least a goal more than the opponent wins games, strikers are kings. — Brian Tamayao, Aidan Manglinong, and RJ Co
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