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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ateneo Men's Football Match #10 Blades of Grass

Blades of Grass

Ateneo 3 vs. UST 0
words by rick olivares football by the blue booters

February 22, 2009
Erenchun Field
The game was seconds away from getting underway. Gino Tongson took his customary place at the left side of midfield. He bent over, pulled a few blades of grass from the pitch then quickly scattered them in front of him.

It was hard to believe that in two hours' time his playing days for Ateneo would be all over.

Ten minutes earlier, Ompong Merida called out to his team for one last huddle. He didn’t say much. After all, what needed to be said was done in their final practice the day before. “I’m turning it over to Coach Jolo,” said the Blue Booters’ mentor of his graduating midfielder Jolo Peralta.

Merida does this in their final game of the year – turning over the inspirational speech to its graduating players.

“Coach Jolo,” repeated the player who was surprised yet pleased with his coach’s tribute. It took him a few seconds before he could collect himself then he thanked his teammates for the year that had taken so long to get to the football season and yet when it arrived, it ended all too quick. Suddenly unsure of what to say, he reminded everyone of the hard earned knowledge that they took for granted in the first round – that they needed to enjoy the game.

Then it was Tongson’s turn. He spoke deliberately to let the message sink in. And on the Ateneo side of the pitch, everyone would have heard a pin drop as those remaining behind listened intently. In five sentences, he reminded everybody of the responsibility that comes with wearing the blue and white. “Never forget,” he concluded as his voice trailed off.

Benedict Tady was next. He didn’t get too much playing time this past year but on the bench he continued to cheer his teammates on. Tady actually had one more playing year left but he was forgoing it for med school. He encouraged everyone to play their roles on the team to the hilt.

Then it was Alvin Perez’ turn.

It’s been a humbling experience for him. In his first four playing years for the team, he went to the Finals every time out. He won three as a member of the already fabled three-peat champions and then there was last year’s stinging loss to FEU. He wasn’t sure about coming back but Merida had prevailed upon him to captain a squad that needed a veteran leader. And now his team finished at the bottom of the heap after notching only one win and two scoreless draws in nine matches. “I think we can take nothing for granted,” he surmised. He too reminded everyone of what they’ve been through and that they needed to learn from this and make it better. How sweet would it be to go out with a win?

In their last four matches of the year, the Ateneo Men’s Football Team regained their touch and bearings. They battled UP to a controversial draw, reasserted their mastery over La Salle, drew scoreless versus UE, and against UST, they hoped to go out with a bang.

There were a couple of crucial moves that seemed so simple but they were the difference.

In place of starting central defender Miguel Tuason, Merida made a lateral move by putting Derrick Candelaria in the middle. And in the place of Paul Cheng, Ale Rivera was given the starting job as an attacking defensive back.

Rivera’s insertion was crucial because it gave the team three set piece threats with the other being Luigi Meer and Miko Manglapus.

And the rookie who is the grandson of the late Senator and Ateneo Cheerleader Raul Manglapus was the third big chess piece on the board in the final game of an almost forgettable year.

Manglapus was perhaps the revelation of the year. After coming off the bench in that now infamous first match against UE, he has played every game and more often than not started. The coaching staff was even intrigued with the idea of making him a part of the attacking third in the future but in the final game of the year, to show his versatility, he was starting at goalkeeper.

With Joel Faustino benched for missing practice, Manglapus who also played emergency keeper during the Palarong Pambansa was going to be the last line of Ateneo’s defense.

The Growling Tigers had always had problems with their short game against Ateneo so they liked to play the long ball and be aggressive. By constantly bombarding the goal from afar, they hoped that eventually the defense would commit a mistake and they could capitalize on it.

Manglapus was up to the test as a long strike by David Basa headed towards a gaggle of players who were fighting for air supremacy. But the keeper rose above everyone and snatched the ball away. It drew applause from everyone.

A few minutes into the match, the Blue Booters’ defense tightened as they forced UST midfielder Louie Brilliantes to cough up the ball. With the EspaƱa squad’s attack discombobulated, Ateneo went on the quick counter.

The first hint of trouble for UST was when Gerard Cancio broke free on a scintillating run but his volley hit the crossbar. Minutes later, Gab Siojo fired away from 40 yards out and the ball skimmed the net above.

The third time was the proverbial charm when in the 13th minute, Rivera’s well-placed left side corner plummeted right in the middle of a bunch of UST and Ateneo players. Tigers keeper Kyle Arboleda tried his best to punch out the ball but it fell right in front of Peralta who slotted in his first goal of the season and in his final match at that.

Ten minutes later, after a foul on a UST player, Merida – in another timely call – instructed Manglapus to take a free kick some ten yards behind the midfield line instead of Kiko Meilly who was making his second start.

The midfielder-turned-keeper’s kick found Peralta who outfought his man in the air as he headed the ball towards Siojo who had the good sense to follow the ball right in. As a result of the pressure, Arboleda dropped the ball and the Atenean booted in the loose ball for his second of the year and a 2-0 lead.

Siojo tapped the front of his jersey then ran towards midfield with his index finger pointing towards the Blue Babble Battalion and the diehard supporters of the team who had remained steadfast even in a most trying season.

In the 35th minute, Siojo became the team’s unlikely scoring leader for the tournament when he netted his team’s (as well as his personal) third goal of the game match off a scramble in front of the UST goal.

The Tigers adjusted in the second half as they had numerous opportunities to pull a goal or two back, but shots were rushed and the defense held. Manglapus’ performance as net minder drew raves from just about everyone on the field including the technical committee.

With time running down, the Blue Booters had one last chance to add up to their tally and Derrick Candelaria’s textbook form bicycle kick even when the shot went straight to Arboleda got nearly everyone on the pitch up in excitement.

As fulltime was called, the entire team and the coaching staff went to the opposite side of the field to thank their supporters.

Jolo Peralta walked off the pitch and fought back his emotions. Since the age of seven he had played on the different pitches inside the campus. He got a nice parting gift – a win and a goal; and he had played well.

Tongson was the last player off the pitch as he clutched at the area above his left eye. “Naiwanan pa ako ng souvenir,” he said of a wayward elbow by a UST player that nailed him.

He touched the grass right at the line that marked the end of play. It didn’t end with a title run, but didn’t shake his head in dismay. He – the team in fact -- had fought the good fight.

Match Statistics
Shots on goals
Ateneo 15 (9)
UST 14 (5)

Ateneo 3

Ateneo 12

Ateneo 1

Ateneo 8

Thanks Alvin, Benedict, Gino, and Jolo.
pic by brossi gonzales

From Gino Tongson:
thanks for all the support rick! you've been with us through the good and bad...pero you never left the blue and white. nice touch in bleachers brew, nice touch indeed. see you in the next uaap, we'll watch (and/or heckle) from the sidelines! hahahha! pero from the ateneo men's football team, WE SALUTE YOU! :)

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