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, February 19, 2008

Ateneo Men's Football #11 Awakenings, A Gambit, and Grand Theft

Match #11
February 17, 2008
Erenchun Field
Ateneo De Manila University

For all the talk that Ateneo had taken the full measure of the talented and highly vaunted Far Eastern University Tamaraws, the Blue Booters once more came out flat in game one of the Season 70 UAAP football finals. Outhustled and outmuscled in almost every play, it seemed that the Tamaraws were going to score first.

Ateneo coach Arnulfo “Ompong” Merida stamped, cajoled, and cussed. He abandoned his cherished strategy of pairing his two playmakers at the same time in Jolo Peralta and Gab Siojo by inserting James Arco early in the game.

With the offense sputtering, Merida rode the referee for not calling a handball by an FEU defender inside the box that would have given Ateneo a penalty shot and possibly a jump in the scoring department. Incensed about the continuous verbal barrage, the referee sent Merida packing not just for the game but for the season (since the next game is officially the final match of the tournament). As the players on the pitch looked to the bench in confusion and in search for guidance, assistant coach and former Blue Booter Bob Manlulo pushed his hands down as a sign to the Ateneo team to settle down. He then pointed his finger to Peralta. “Fight for that ball,” he yelled.

“Sana mag-work,” Manlulo muttered under his breath referring to Merida’s gambit. It worked for Ateneo as they soon took over the discombobulated Tamaraws, who were no longer free to roam and attack and dictate the pace of the game.

The Blue Booters loaded up the midfield by sending up Fred Ozaeta and Migs Tuason to help Peralta gain possession of the ball and to attack. With the Tamaraws’ star striker Jovanie Simpron marked well by the defense, FEU’s offense bogged down. And for the second time in four days (dating back to Match 10 played on Valentine’s Day), the FEU XI exhibited signs of fear.

“We took away their shots and now it was our turn,” said a visibly elated Gino Tongson who once more scored another crucial goal versus FEU. “There was fear in their eyes. Alam na namin we had them.”

After a scoreless draw in the first half, Tongson made good on a brilliant cross by Gerard Cancio in the 52nd minute. As the ball perfectly made its way into the middle of the box, Tongson remembered his training. “Most guys would hit it from one touch. But if I wanted to get a good shot, I knew I had to control the ball first (or yari ako kay Coach Ompong),” he told himself as he used his chest and foot to corral the ball. And in one motion, he pirouetted and smashed a shot from almost point blank range. 1-0 Ateneo as the predominant blue and white crowd let out a collective roar of relief and celebration. Tongson cartwheeled once and pointed to the crowd.

Twenty minutes later off a perfect bending free kick by skipper Pat Ozaeta, Alvin Perez broke away from his defender and headed home the insurance policy past FEU keeper Brick Caballero. 2-0 Ateneo. Said Perez, “Last night (before the game), coach told me that I wasn’t getting possession of the ball during corners or freekicks. Importante na hindi lang makipagsabayan but maunahan ko sila. Sweet!”

FEU Tamaraws coach Adolfo Alicante held out his hands and yelled to his team, “Ayaw niyo na ba lumaban?” In the last three years, his team made its living off pinpoint passing, placing multiple attackers in scoring position, and playing stingy defense. And the much-maligned Ateneo team, reeling from the loss of multiple key personnel from the three-peat years, stole a page from FEU’s playbook and looked ready to upend the Tamaraws in championship play for the second year in a row (they were upset by UST last season).

Despite the presence of its strong back four, Ateneo has paraded talented scorers including Cancio, Tongson, Peralta, and James Arco. With Arco a nuisance particularly to FEU’s central back Jason Cordova (that led to two free kicks by Pat Ozaeta one which Perez headed home) and Peralta providing steady playmaking, FEU was in trouble. And now the Blue Booters picked up their first win versus the Tamaraw squad in two years and were brimming with confidence.

“One more game,” smiled Pat Ozaeta referring to the title match and his last as an Ateneo player. “I missed this.”

So did we all.

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