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, February 27, 2009

UAAP Women's Football Finals Game 1

Justify FullMaking History
UST 2 vs. DLSU 0
by rick olivares

February 26
Erenchun Field, Ateneo De Manila

The De La Salle University Women's Football Team has made the UAAP Finals 14 straight years. Head Coach Hans Smit can put his large fingers on the secrets of their success but in his humble way, he'll tell you that he's been blessed. "I've got good, bright, and talented kids with good attitudes," he explained. "And they are far easier to teach than the men."

He's not even sure how many titles his team has won. It's not false humility. He is just focused on the here and now. "After this season, I'm thinking about the next. Winning never gets old on you. But you become a slave to it."

For the record, La Salle has won it seven times while FEU has the other six. The only other squad other than the two to make it to the Finals was UP and this season UST finally crashed the party and they have good field position to notch their first championship.

Ironically, the UST men's team has 34 UAAP football championships, a ridiculous (in a good way) number that serves notice that for over-all sports greatness, it's just them and FEU.

The Lady Archers arrived around 7:00am at the Erenchun Field of the Ateneo De Manila University. A few chatted idly, some got their feet taped, and a few others were lost in their iPods.

They practically blew away the competition in two rounds of play. They scored 16 goals and surrendered only 1. And that was to UST in a 2-1 win in the first round. The Tigresses held them to a scoreless draw in the return match, a crucial point that together with the walk-over win over the Lady Tamaraws propelled them to the Finals.

In the days leading up to Game 1, the Lady Archers took nothing for granted. "You always remember what happened in the past," said Issa Camara, the La Salle team captain. "You just have to learn from it."

They remembered dealing Ateneo a heartbreaker en route to the finals only to have the same plate handed back to them when they lost to FEU in a penalty shoot out 3-1.

They were dealt another blow in the aftermath when Stephanie Pheasant hung up her boots after a stellar career. Anna Frumenti slipped into the central back position and hoped to repel attacks the way Steph did before.

But Frumenti missed the first two matches of the season and the team played a more cautious 5-3-2 formation. When she returned for the third match against Ateneo, it allowed them to be more flexible and switch to a more conventional 4-4-2 that allowed for an extra midfielder to marshal a quick counter.

However, it is still unlike the previous year's squad where even the defensive backs would regularly help out in the counters because they knew Pheasant was there to erase any mistakes. This year Frumenti and Martie Plaza often remain behind.

Even with Sumo Lazaro not 100% because of nagging injuries (she also helps on defense on the left midfield), the offense has plenty of punch with Jessica Ryon who is leading the league in scoring with five markers. In fact, four of the top six goals scorers are from La Salle: Lazaro and Sam Nierras have three each and Pia Bravo has two.

But the others top two scorers are from UST -- Mary Ignacio and Marianne Narciso who have three each.

Hans Smit's team takes nothing for granted. This season alone, they've developed a healthy rivalry with the España squad.

La Salle (which has made the finals of the University Games every year as well) beat the Tigresses 1-0 in the semi-finals en route to the championship. When they next met up it was in the Metro Manila Girls Football Association and UST returned the favor with a 4-3 win in penalty kicks.

If FEU made a mistake of concentrating too much on Ignacio, UST has other scorers like Narciso, Herlyn Salmon, and Prescila Rubio who are capable of finding the back of the net.

Camara said the team went into this year thinking of redemption for last year. But they also doubly worked hard on their penalty kicks and heading into the Finals, UST really had their attention.

The Tigresses left the España campus at 6am. They rode on the team bus and wanted to avoid all the rush hour traffic so they had time to relax and smooth any frayed nerves. The last time Assistant Coach JB Valenzuela stepped on to the Ateneo pitch in a championship game was in 2005 when his UST team was beaten in penalties by the home team from Loyola Heights. He was the goal keeper on that squad yet today works as an assistant to Bon Bon Estraban, his teammate who is now the Head Coach. Said Valenzuela, "The team is peaking at the right time and we know that we match up well against La Salle. We'd like to see them stand up to the pressure."

And from kick-off, UST stepped on the accelerator and never let up. In the first five minutes of the match, they already had three shots on goal.

In the meantime, La Salle's short game was thoroughly disrupted. Ryon and Nierras didn't have decent touches as they were swarmed by defenders every time out.

Towards the end of the first half, Estraban substituted Salmon for Narciso. Her entry was had an immediate impact because not only was she faster but she could create opportunities. On the opposite side of the field with Ignacio, they were a troublesome mix for La Salle.

Frumenti and keeper Haya Ibarra had a busy morning chasing down repeated attacks by UST. What the Tigresses were doing was outrunning the taller La Sallian defenders.

At the half, an irked Smit chided his team for their lack of hustle and patience. More often than not, the defense was caught watching the opponents waltz right through. Ibarra had 12 saves in the first half alone. If UST was allowed to continuously pepper the DLSU goal with shots, a few of them were bound to go in.

La Salle came out of the second half smoking as Lazaro, Ryon, and Nierras found themselves deep inside. But the shots were stopped or went wide.

After fulltime, the two sides were still at a scoreless draw but it was UST that still had plenty in the tank.

In the 9th minute of the first period of extra time, Ignacio gained entry inside the box and booted a powerful shot that Ibarra was able to corral. But it was a wicked shot that wormed itself out of the keeper's hands and trickled right in. Four minutes later, Narciso raced down the right flanks with Plaza on her heels. Narciso flicked the ball to the middle that April Reyes tapped in for UST's second goal.

And that was all she wrote. UST stripped the green and white of its aura of invincibility. "I'm not surprised," explained Valenzuela after the match. "We knew the girls could do it. And they went out and executed it. And that should help our confidence for Game Two."

With the La Salle team in tears, Smit straddled the sidelines and blurted out, "Why are you crying? It's not yet over! We have one more game to play. This one is over. We got beat. Let's get ready for the next game."

Now the past penalty kick debacles and that the first loss will weigh heavy on their minds.

Whatever happens, one team will add to their storied history or one will begin to make theirs.

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