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.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ateneo Men's Football Match #4 The sons of Iloilo, a tricky field, and a humbling defeat

Ateneo 0 vs. Far Eastern University 2
by rick olivares

Match 4
January 23, 2008
Ocampo Field
Ateneo De Manila University

Adolfo Alicante was hoping that the game against undefeated Ateneo would turn Far Eastern University’s fortunes around. Last campaign they were heavy favorites entering the UAAP football tournament and heading into the finals. Once there, they were bushwhacked by UST and the team tumbled in disarray. But Alicante is a patient man. When he was playing for Letran back in the NCAA, it took years to unseat Mapua before they got a chance to savor a title. He knows he has a talented team that just needs to jell. After all, they represent some of the best from Barotac Nuevo and Santa Barbara in Iloilo, the football capital of the Philippines where the game is taught to them around the same time they learn the alphabet.

FEU started the season poorly losing 1-0 to UP. Their performances have been inconsistent and maddening to the coaching staff but they knew that playing in the smaller Ocampo field would play into their hands. In previous years, Ateneo barely beat them in this field and the last time was former forward Zaldy MaraƱon score din the dying minutes of regulation to preserve an undefeated streak.

There would be no repeating history in this game.

It’s no excuse but the Blue Booters dislike playing in the field named for perhaps Ateneo’s greatest student-athlete ever, the late Ed Ocampo. The team was built for a big field where the larger spaces allow its midfield wizards Jolo Peralta and Gab Siojo to weave their magic for goal scorers like Gerard Cancio, Gino Tongson, and James Arco. “We will just have t take the attack to them,” said team coach Ompong Merida prior to the start of the match.

FEU on the other hand practices three times a week at the FEU-FERN campus in Fairview and twice a week in the Morayta school. When they get to Manila, they usually practice on cement and sometimes play street football in the city streets; an unusual combination of futsal and parkour.

With the loss of three veteran players from last season, this year has been a virtuoso one for striker Jovanie Simpron, he of the wiry frame and fan of Brazilian Ronaldinho. “Kailangan atake lang kami,” he says in his distinct Illongo accent. “Wala si (Pat) Ozaeta so sana advantage yun.”

Save for the last few minutes when a furious Ateneo rally led by Cancio and Tongson fell short as their strikes went wide, the game was a showcase of total dominance by the Tamaraws. The first half was played almost entirely in Ateneo’s side of the field as they couldn’t mount any form of organized attack. If the top striker found himself bearing down the goal he was immediately surrounded or boxed by two or three defenders. With almost no support for any of Ateneo’s attacking side, they would often lose possession.

There was an eerie feeling on the sidelines as FEU was coming dangerously close to scoring as the shorter pitch also hampered their attack. Just when Ateneo seemed like they were going to score they lost the ball on a miscue that led to a swift counter and an almost unbelievable score by Simpron in the 42nd minute. With Pat Ozaeta out, freshman Migs Tuason slipped into the center back slot while veteran Doods Lansang too the left. With the team unable to get into the flow, FEU literally swarmed all over Ateneo’s defenders.

Merida shook his head as he made his way to the statue of St. Ignatius for the halftime talk. This was the first time this year that the team would be down by a goal at the half and he thought that if his players wouldn’t fight for the ball then the game was all but over. “Parang yung first half ng UST game,” said Merida of the sobering goal by Simpron. “Except that we scored in the last few minutes hindi yung kalaban.”

Instead of coming out like gangbusters in the second half, it was FEU that shifted once more to a higher gear and Simpron scored the insurance goal in the 56th minute.

Cancio kicked the dirt at the demoralizing second goal and looked to Peralta. “Let’s go,” he said. Peralta nodded and the Blue Booters, in the words of one FEU defender, played harder from there on. “Ginalit muna ang Ateneo, said their center back Cordova.

But it was too little too late as the Tams held on for the upset win and a tie for first place.

“Nag-respond yung mga bata,” humbly offered Alicante after the game. “Malalaman natin pagkatapos nito kung kaya mag-move on. Pero yang Ateneo will learn from this. Babawi yan.”

As the Blue Booters made their customary way to the sidelines to applaud the supporters whose throaty cheers and yells tried to will the team back, Merida had a wry smile on his face. “We got humbled,” he said trying to hide his disappointment. “Walang shame in losing to a good team. Now we plan for UE (which beat DLSU 1-0 good for fourth place in the six-team field). Sometimes kahit ayaw natin, a loss is good for the team. It means marami pang trabaho ang kailangan natin.”

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