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, January 27, 2012

Scoring droughts, hope & glory in UAAP football

Scoring droughts, hope & glory in UAAP football
by rick olivares with pics by brosi gonzales

Hope springs eternal in the UAAP football tournament… in spite of a drought of wins and goals.

For the La Salle Green Archers, they have four points accrued from four matches. That means four draws and no losses. They have no wins either. At 0-4-0, they are way off last season’s pace when they went 4-4-2, good for third place and 15 goals. So far this Season 74, they’ve scored two goals and conceded two. Heading into the toss up with UP, the Green Archers were at third place with three points. State U was at second with five points with one win and two draws. The Fighting Maroons have also had problems with their finishing and are frightfully short of the previous year’s pace where they finished the elimination round with 28 points en route to another title.

Both sides had their opportunities to score but their defense and some terrific goal keeping has held.

At one point, DLSU head coach Hans Smit whispered a short prayer to his brother Eduard who passed away after battling a long illness. “Help me up there, brother,” he told himself. Unfortunately, his strike force of Don Rabaya and King Yuhico were unable to produce anything.

Smit raised his arms in utter frustration. “Week after week its like this,” he said in a disappointed tone. “They have chances but they keep making the same mistakes. When they have to pass they shoot. When they have to shoot they pass. When the shot is there the finish is bad. And yet, they keep smiling all throughout. But the good thing is we are not too far away from the leaders. One good win could change things for us.”

For UP, they still retain many of the mainstays who have led them to two championships in three years. Last year’s sensation, Jinggoy Valmayor hasn’t scored at all. Confidence should be at an all-time high because aside from Valmayor, Raymark Fernandez has been chosen to play with the national team. Many of their players were on the NCR Under-23 that made the semifinals of the Suzuki Cup last summer. Many play in the United Football League.

“Masama laro,” said former team captain Stephen Permanes who is now a spectator. “Wala pang laro na lahat maganda yung linaro. Kulang sa chemistry. Kaya naman. Kaya pa.”

The one win thus far has been against the disappointing Ateneo Blue Eagles who have yet to find succor since the 2008 season, the last time they made the finals. Since then, it has been nothing but heartbreak, heartache, and issues. Although they say that they are playing better (they felt that the previous system and atmosphere under their former head coach was restrictive and affected their play). This year… well, what are the excuses? It seems that when a team needs to win, they get it at the expense of the boys in blue who are feeling that in every sense of the word. UP’s only two goals of the tournament (in four matches have come at Ateneo’s expense). UST also beat them by the same score. They did win against UE when Mikko Mabang scored on a penalty. Incidentally, that was the only goal UE has conceded.

Things have not worked out for the boys in blue who were excited about the return of a few of the veterans who opted not to suit up last year. But so far, the pre-season promise has given way to even more of the same frustration. With starting goalkeeper Rufino Mantos suspended for some fracas with a referee during the match against UP, the incident has cast a pall on the team. Against a young and talented FEU eleven, none of the veteran smarts saved them. With a change in tactics for the match, the team suffered from the lack of ball distribution coming from the middle. The chances were few and so far in between.

Regarding chances, Tamaraws striker Jon Melliza who like Valmayor and Rabaya, has not had many opportunities of his own. Perhaps defenses are now keyed to him. But he ended his scoring drought by tacking on a hat trick including one off a spectacular free kick. Although Ateneo pulled one goal back, the loss saw them plummet down to the bottom of the standings.

The Tams haven’t been healthy. Many of their players have been playing sick or injured. There was so much talk about the young squad prior to the start of the season with players moving up from their much ballyhooed juniors program. The talent and skill is there. Easily, they are the most fun to watch in the manner of moving the ball upfield. The finishing, like it has for UP and La Salle, has been wanting. “Sana tuloy tuloy na ‘to,” smiled a relieved Melliza after the match.

The UST Growling Tigers are atop the league standings with eight points from two wins and two draws. They have been denied the last two seasons a title first by FEU and then by UP. They still have some of their talented core left with some good recruits. But the frustration for head coach Marjo Allado is that the veterans are the ones making mistakes they should no longer be making. “Matatagal na kayo naglalaro pero ganyan pa rin yung mali niyo,” bellowed the coach who also led UST to a title as a player.

Like every other team in the league, they are so far from last year’s pace where they finished second in the eliminations with 20 points and 20 goals. After four matches, they have only scored four times. Forward Ojay Clarino was bemused by the goal synchronicity. He has no answers for his team’s ability to collect the three full points after a scoreless draw with UE.

The UE Red Warriors still retain many of the young studs of its promising teams of the past few years. But its scoring heroes -- the Arboleda brothers and Gringo Bravo – have also been unable to finish. New coaches Gerald and Jerome Orcullo who both starred for San Beda in the NCAA have been frustrated with the decision making of their players. “Mix ng mga bata at veterans,” said Gerald who is also playing with Philippine Navy in the UFL. “Bago rin yung sistema namin pero hirap sila sa pagtatapos. Buti na lang maganda yung depensa namin.”

“May pag-asa pa naman,” he said.

I wasn’t so sure he sounded convincing.

Some blame the field conditions. Some think the defenses have been good. But every one is confident that they can come around and start scoring goals by the start of the second round. At least hope springs eternal in frustrating season for UAAP football. 

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