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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2011 UFL Cup semis: The changing of the guard

The changing of the guard
The semifinals of the 2011 UFL Cup is all about change. But some teams like the way things are.
by rick olivares pics by brosi gonzales

The 2011 UFL Cup can be distilled into two facts: one, there is a changing of the guard. The old football powers – Army, Navy, and Pasargad have fallen by the wayside and new powers such as Global, which has raked in silverware by the cartload in the past two years, and up and coming Loyola, are continuing to challenge the old hierarchy. And with more and more overseas-based Filipinos and foreigners entering the league, the quality of play has significantly increased.

The second fact concerns the vanguard – homegrown and proud – that refuses to go gently into the good night.

All that came to play in the UFL Cup semifinals Monday night at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium where the stunning 5-4 comeback win by Loyola over Kaya and the breathtaking 2-0 victory by Air Force over nemesis Global will resound and be spun about in bars, parties, and online fora for quite some time.

Kaya vs. Loyola
American baseball legend Yogi Berra once famously said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” And every year, there are several new entries in the realm of sports that give meaning to that particular Berra-ism.

Case in point, Loyola versus Kaya.

It’s the high-octane offense of Loyola versus the diesel engine Kaya. The former topped the cup tournament with a whopping 43 goals in five matches while conceding only three. Kaya on the other hand has oft started sluggishly before finding their rhythm and gunning down the opposition.

Said Kaya midfielder Lexton Moy: “We’re aware of our troubles starting and it is important that we get off to a good start.”

And Juan Cutillas’ team sure did exactly that.

Showing steel-eyed resolve in the midfield, Kaya frustrated any Loyola build-up and forced them to play the long ball and go solo attacks. So bad did Loyola look that it seemed that they would need 10 footballs to make everyone happy.

On offense, Prince Mark Boley led the attack connecting perfectly well with strikers Eric Dagroh and Nate Burkey and midfielder Masa Omura. And that proper build-up reaped dividends early on as Boley, the Liberian national, opened the scoring in the 10th minute after beating a Loyola defender and sending the ball past keeper Gabby Vorbeck.

Eric Dagroh doubled the lead in the 32nd minute when Vorbeck was unable to hold on to stop a close range volley that snuck under him.

Three minutes later, Boley added his second goal of the night to make it 3-0.

At the half, Coach Kim read his team the riot act. They were not doing exactly that – play as a team. Upon the resumption of the game, it seemed as if they didn’t head their Korean coach’s words as they continued their disorganized ways.

But some 15 minutes into the second half, there would be three moves that would change the outcome of the match.

First would be replacement of Garmaroudi at goal for Kaya. The regular starting keeper for Kaya had been out after a six-match ban but was finally back. Saba had hurt himself deep into the first half while trying to stop a Phil Younghusband attack. Although he had not practiced prior to the match, he had conducted himself well at goal. Cutillas lifted him for Toffer Camcam who had started most of Kaya’s matches this cup competition despite his protestations.

The second change the substitution of Boley for Yannick Tuason. More than any other substitution for Kaya – yes, more than the goalkeeping switch – this would dramatically change the game for the team in black and white. It was Boley who was inspirational in Kaya’s three goals. It was Boley whose pace and crosses had been largely unchecked by Loyola. As soon as he went out, Kaya’s attack ground to a screeching halt.

And that along with a third substitution would swing the pendulum the other way. That change would be the replacement of Matthew Hartmann at midfield for Loyola. Hartmann had been largely ineffective with his passing and decision making found wanting. Jayson Cutamora came in his stead and the effect was instantaneous.

And his link up with the Younghusband brothers got the Sparks’ frightening offense going.

In the 58th minute, the breakthrough came as Phil scored on a brilliant pass from his brother opening the floodgates for a second half goalfest. In the 69th minute, Phil once more scored as Kaya’s defense wavered.

Loyola completed its comeback when Mark Hartmann scored on a brilliant set piece following a disputed call outside the Kaya box. And just like that, the match was tied at 3-3.

Kaya was stunned. They had the Sparks on the ropes and in a brutal turnaround, it was they who were now on the verge of being knocked out with no relief in sight. No Ruffy Llorente, the team’s supersub, was being sent in to shore up the beleaguered defense that left Camcam to a pack of wolves that smelled blood.

Phil Younghusband gave his side the lead in the 78th minute and older brother James’ headed in a Mark Hartmann corner shot in the 85th minute that shockingly put Loyola up by two goals, 5-3.

In a response borne of desperation and the exhortations of team captain Anton del Rosario, Kaya pulled back one following Nate Burkey’s first and only goal of the night. But it had come at the fifth minute of stoppage time. Not soon after, the shrill whistle of referee Roel Emnas cut into the night sending one side of the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in rapturous glee while the other side was deathly silent.

Loyola had completed one of the most incredible comebacks. Kaya had always played well in the second half of matches. This time, they came out firing and closed out the match with a sickening thud.

For the Sparks, there had been questions all cup long about them not being tested. But they vanquished the tough Stallion club, 2-1, and now had been taken to the brink by Kaya, had found within themselves that firm resolve to dig deep and mount a comeback for the ages. “Consider us tested,” said Phil Younghusband after the match. “But it is not yet over. One more game before we can say this tournament is a success or a failure.”

Air Force vs. Global
Unfortunately for erstwhile defending champion Global, they would not get one more chance to defend their title against the usurper.

Air Force, in their best game of the cup thus far, thoroughly discombobulated the best football club in the land. Taking a cue from Pachanga’s marking of the dangerous Izzo El-Habbib, Martin Doctora, equal in height to the Sudanese striker, shadowed him well in the attacking third of Global.

In as much as the earlier match between Kaya and Loyola would be forever remembered for substitutions that changed the course of the match, the second would be about curious changes in the lineup.

During Global’s magnificent run to the semis, head coach Graeme MacKinnon had installed the amazing Janrick Soriano up front as a twin striker to Izzo. For this match, he was on the bench (instead of the back four where he played earlier in the group stage) as Misagh Bahadoran reclaimed his starting slot. The other erstwhile starter was Yu Hoshide who was on the reserve list while Franco Borromeo made the start.

Although speed was not a question for Global since they still retained it in their starting lineup, the battle was won in the midfield as Air Force took out Global’s wondrous corps of mids in William Guerridon, Badz El-Habbib, Val Kama, and Borromeo.

Air Force’s Chieffy Caligdong, Jeruzel Tonog, Randy Bela-Ong, and Jalor Soriano showed incredible patience in the midfield as they dominated ball possession, harassed Global’s ball carriers, and kept the pressure on the opposing back four.

And key to their match was giving Global another look to their attack. Previously, their primary attack came from the left. But in this match, they funneled it through the central midfield and to the right. This time, instead of Caligdong or striker Ian Araneta creating plays, they were looking to finish what their teammates had started.

Despite Air Force’s dominance of the ball, Global’s defense held and prevent the military men from any decent chances as Paolo Pascual gave a terrific conduct of himself at goal.

Pascual had looked shaky early in the cup competition but as the tournament progressed, he had begun to play solid at goal.

The entry of game-changer Angel Guirado and Janrick Soriano early in the second half did not pay dividends although the former brought some life to a stagnant attack.

However, with the match approaching full time and in the danger zone where a late goal could be the marginal one, Global would make the first mistakes that would doom them.

In a terrific display of fitness and conditioning, Air Force was relentless in their pressure. And under duress, Global defender Ange Guisso’s bad clearance of a ball saw it land inside the box where Air Force’s striker Yanti Barsales quickly pounced on it to send it past Pascual.

Global responded with a well-placed long ball by Guirado to Bahadoran who was unable to get the poke past Air Force keeper Tats Mercado.

Then in the 95th minute, Jalor Soriano, who had played second fiddle to brother Janrick who had become a star with Global, booted in his third goal f the tournament after beating central back David Basa.

All tournament long, Air Force had been a team that thrived well in the first half of play and somewhat wilted in the second. Global on the other hand was the master of the comeback.

In their 11 goals of the cup, eight had come in the final 45 minutes of play. But against Air Force, they were shut out. And the Airmen were moving on with a resounding 2-nil triumph that knocked out their nemesis.

Said a beaming Barsales who had retired from national duty earlier in the year and looked forward to coach but was recalled one last time, “Siguro ito yung paghihiganti namin at malaking bagay para sa akin na maipakita na kayak o pa. Na meron din rason kung bakit hanggang sa edad ko (he is in his late 30s), nasa national team pa rin ako.”

Barsales and his teammates are back in the finals for a second straight year. And it will come down to two facts – one, the new power rising trying to create a new world order (Loyola), and two, the old guard – homegrown and proud – trying to stem back the tide of the rapid changes in local football.

1 comment:

  1. stem the tide of rapid change and allow football in this country to continue wallowing in mediocrity?