Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ateneo Men's Football Match 5: Cold pizza, the penitent player, and a vault to the top

Ateneo 1 vs. University of the East 0
by rick olivares

Match 5
January 27, 2008
Erenchun Field
Ateneo De Manila University

After every game so far this year, the Ateneo Blue Booters have been served several boxes of pizza by its boosters. After last Wednesday’s surprise shutout by the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, the pizza never seemed more unpalatable and cold. The team sat at the east end of the Ocampo Field; the small pitch that has always given them trouble what with their need for space and to move the ball around. Some former players passed the boxes around for the current team to grab a slice, but none seemed interested as the shock loss weighed heavy on their minds. With the teams all bunched up close to one another in the standings, another loss could be perilous to any title ambitions.

Four days later. To be precise, one hour and thirty minutes prior the start of Ateneo’s final match of the first round against the surging UE Red Warriors (who chalked up consecutive wins against UP and DLSU), James Arco, Alvin Perez, and Doods Lansang were in Ocampo Field to watch the Ateneo women’s team take on DLSU (the match ended in a scoreless draw). “We’re ready to go,” volunteered Arco. “We’re never going to come out and play flat again.”

“You never walk alone, bro,” quoted Lansang of that Rodgers and Hammerstein song that has become a popular football song most notably by Liverpool FC. Lansang then flashed his taped left wrist; a tribute to the Mersey side team’s left midfielder John Arne Riise. Arco who is a Manchester United fan began singing, “United! United!”

It was a good sign. The team was loose right before the game despite the pressure and possible implications of the match whatever its outcome.

Five minutes into the game, Ateneo seized control and began a relentless attack that had the Red Booters on their heels. Red goalkeeper Robert Marto harangued his defensive backs no end to repel the sorties and to keep pace with Ateneo’s Gerard Cancio who was beating them not only to the ball but was getting good looks and shots at the goal.

In the 28th minute, Arco picked off UE sweeper Roland Alcejera’s weak clearance and immediately darted ahead. He crossed over to Cancio who split the middle and drew the defense to him. Gino Tongson flashed right and was rewarded with another cross that sailed over Alcejera’s outstretched leg. Marto never saw Tongson coming that all the Atenean had to do was push the ball in for the goal.

In times past, after Tongson would score a goal, he run around the pitch in rapturous celebration. If it was a ferocious match and when ticked off by the roughhousing, Tongson would run towards the opponent’s bench and point to his jersey. But after being chastened for his banishment in the season opener and subsequent suspension in following match, Tongson has been a model citizen sticking to the team’s system and coach Ompong Merida’s strict adherence to fair play. And after scoring his second goal of the tournament, he merely raised his fist ala Michael Jordan. Then walked back to the midfield to high fives with his teammates.

When he missed another pair of point blank stabs that would have buried UE, Tongson apologized to his teammates and coach. “I’m sorry,” he sheepishly pleaded as teammate Perez kidded him after the match of playful taunts of “Ikaw ang may kasalanan” – (Arco got the same treatment for missing another one). "I was following the system." Perez laughed and gave him a high five.

UE could have tied in several minutes after Ateneo’s first strike but a couple of players were called offside. And despite Ateneo dominance of ball possession, they never added to Tongson’s goal and the game ended 1-0.

Jolo Peralta was magnificent in the midfield as he time and again set up Cancio and the others for great shots that just missed. Merida threw his baseball cap on the ground on several occasions after those misses that could have put the game beyond reach. “Nanggigil mga bata,” he shook his head after the match. “Pero I was happy of the way they came out after natalo kami sa FEU (the Tamaraws drew 2-2 with UST earlier to fall to second place).”

In the post-game huddle of the University of the East, coach Lloyd James Lim was quick to offer encouraging words to his young wards. His team despite parading mostly freshmen and sophomores have given a better account of themselves than the previous years when they finished the competition without a win. Lim, ever gracious in defeat, told them to learn from their opponents and how and why they win. The UE booters finished the first round at fifth in the standings ahead by five points over surprise cellar-dweller DLSU. If they will give a good account of themselves in the second round, said Lim, then they could figure for a title run.

Over at the Ateneo side of the field, Merida was concerned. The team had 13 shots on goal and converted only one. “We can’t pass up to many of these opportunities kasi kung one goal lang ang lamang, a mistake later they (the opponent) will have the equalizer or the game winner,” pointed out the coach. “But good results tayo today.”

Last Wednesday, the post-match huddle had the atmosphere of a wake. Today, after a confidence boosting win they were bathed in smiles. And when the pizza boxes were passed around by their former teammates there was no hesitation in the players’ digging in.

“I’m hungry,” declared Arco as he picked up his belongings.

What about a championship, I asked.

“That’s what we all want,” laughed the second year-player as he made his way towards the locker room.

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