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.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

2011 UFL Cup Finals: The old guard are champs!

This appears in my column in the Monday December 12, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

The old guard are champs
by rick olivares pics by tunying p.

They are the old guard. Fighting not just for homegrown pride but also to stem back the tide of change. The men of Air Force after lifting the 2011 UFL Cup might say that they are a team of destiny.

Denied at full time’s door last year by Global, they got their revenge by ousting the same team in the semifinals of this year’s cup. Global, after all, is the vanguard of change in Philippine football – a team stacked with national players of foreign lineage, the best home grown talent, and the best African players around.

And there’s that saying that cropped up during the most recent Pacquiao-Marquez fight – to be the champion, you have to defeat the champion.

Scratch Global from that list.

And finally, there was Loyola in their way. Or maybe, they were in the way of Loyola.

Using military parlance, Air Force, after seizing an early goal, withstood a relentless barrage of shots from a team that has the league’s most potent attack. And in true military fashion, it was as if Air Force’s defenders were throwing themselves on top of grenades, howitzers, lasers, and point blank shots. As great as the defense was, Air Force goalkeeper Edmundo Mercado Jr. was superb at goal turning back one of the most fearsome strikers in the game today in Phil Younghusband. Mercado, a former national player himself, stopped shot after shot and jawed some with the Younghusband and Mark Hartmann.

During the few occasions the ball did get past him, the crossbar stopped those shots!

Leaving on a jet plane
All season long, Air Force got better and better. They were a pre-tournament favorite. For sure they had that fearsome 1-2 punch in Ian Araneta and Chieffy Caligdong and that alone is enough to put the fear of God in many teams. The two combined for 25 goals with Araneta the second-leading scorer in the tournament.

From the very start, the Airmen showed they could win in a variety of ways. There was that steady control of a 4-1 win over Laos FC (the brother team of Global). They followed that with a 6-2 romp over Navy where they conceded two late goals. But the temporary lack of focus was quickly dashed as they carpet-bombed Manila All-Japan 13-0 and Manhur FC 15-3.

When the expansion clubs out of the way, they beat one of the better defensive teams in Green Archers United 3-1 before blanking Global 2-nil in the semifinals. The final four win was actually a statement that there was more to Air Force than Araneta and Caligdong.

If anything, that match showed why Yanti Barsales was in the national team even if he was well into his 30s. He struck the opening goal for Air Force and for good measure, in a sign of the youth movement within the team, Jalor Soriano closed out the match with his third goal of the tournament. For the first time in the tourney, Sgt. Edzel Bracamonte, the newly-installed head coach of Air Force, gave the opposition a different look on offense where it was the other players facilitating the attack and not their 1-2 punch. And that gave way to much more options.

From Loyola to Istanbul
Loyola overhauled its roster in the off-season addressing their need for better defenders and dynamic strikers. The latter was particularly an understatement.

During Loyola’s semifinals match with Kaya, the team that had been previously tested only once (by Stallion), rebounded mightily after being spotted a 3-nil lead after 45 minutes of play.

The crucial substitution of Prince Mark Boley, who got injured put a serious cramp on Kaya’s offense. But that was part of the problem. At halftime, Kaya thought it was over. But they never got the memo that the game is never over until it’s over. And perhaps, they underestimated the resolve of the Younghusband brothers. The comeback win where Loyola scored five goals in 29 minutes to pip Kaya will be a Philippine version of Istanbul where Liverpool came back to tie AC Milan in the 2005 UEFA Champions League final then go on to win in penalties.

However, Istanbul was the finals. So what was it going to be like against Air Force in the UFL Cup Finals?

The Enemy at the Gates
The finals was a reversal of the way both squads played their semis games. If Air Force dominated the midfield against Global they had to surrender it to Loyola this time around as they resorted to the early longball. Almost from the opening whistle, the Sparks attacked but it was evident as well that Mercado was up to the task.

In the 40th minute, Loyola inexplicably did not pressure Caligdong in giving up the ball even as the Air Force winger drew two defenders. Instead Caligdong was able to race up the left flank to deliver a cross. Although it was blocked, several Airmen moved into a support position until two consecutive short passes (from Yanti Barsales to Randy Bella-Ong) found their way to Araneta who was in the middle of the box. The longtime national team striker turned and fired away for the first goal.

Come the second half although Loyola redoubled their efforts but Air Force’s defense, Mercado, and finally the crossbar came into play.

In one maddening stretch where the ball was in Air Force’s defensive half for over five minutes, Loyola took six shots that were blocked or saved. The final statistics said it all. The Sparks had 33 shots on goal with none finding the back of the net. Mercado time and again frustrated the league’s most prolific scorer, Younghusband, who had the same number of goals as the combined scores of Araneta and Caligdong.

The Younghusband brothers were relentless in attacking Air Force and the strain was showing in the military men's faces. But the defense held fast and Air Force had their Cup.

Loyola looked to have equalized in the 52nd minute when James Younghusband headed in a left corner shot by Mark Hartmann. Just when the Sparks were celebrating and fireworks were shot up into the sky, the linesman called an infraction on Hartmann’s corner and a re-set was order by referee Giovanni Villagaracia much to the consternation of the Loyola squad.

The Sparks redoubled their efforts and continued with the relentless barrage but once more, Air Force’s defense, Mercado, and the crossbar held fast.

With time running out, Barsales put the outcome beyond doubt when he stole the ball from Loyola substitute defender JP Merida and chipped the ball over the keeper Ref Cuaresma who strayed somewhat from his line. The result was a masterful 2-0 nil win for the 2011 UFL Cup title for Air Force; their third title in the past two years.

In the aftermath, Mercado and Barsales made no bones about the winning the cup with an entirely homegrown squad. Both players had retired from national duty but showed their talent, skill, and greatness in helping Air Force, the last military team standing, maintain its supremacy in the 28-team tournament.

“The old guard,” Bracamonte wondered aloud. “Well… we’re here to stay.”


  1. Great piece...sense of melodramatic touches. Yup the Old Guards literally defended their stellar billing , at least for now! Viva Iloilo booters!Pride of Btac and Sta. Barbara!

  2. Ey Rick! This time the crossbar didn't crossed Ian Araneta...bwaahaha!

  3. Yanti is still deadly even at his age. IMHO, he still far better than his nephew Ian Araneta.

  4. kudos to the defenders also... Joebel, Martin, Harold and handicapped Joel did a great job defending.... Tats never lost its touch.. I was amazed how Cuz Joebel and the team played..

  5. Now Coach Brax not only proved his one of the best players before.... He's also a great Coach himself along with his teammate Leo Jaena...