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, May 20, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #311 Analyzing the Loyola-Geylang match

At the Jalan Besar Stadium at 530pm match day.
This appears in the Monday, May 21, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Analyzing the Loyola-Geylang match
by rick olivares

A lot of people have been asking me about my analysis of the just concluded match between Loyola Meralco and Geylang United. And here it is.

Q: Why didn’t the team field its full lineup? Where were Lawrence Ikegwuruka and Alex Camara?
A: Clubs taking part in the competition could only field four foreigners. Ikegwuruka and Camara had passport problems. There was a gamble of playing Matthew Hartmann that didn’t work out. There is an obvious disconnect between Loyola and the PFF.

Q: Why didn’t Davide Cortina start?
A: He should have. But up to the final day of practice he was penciled in as a starter. However, during the player registration, the FAS inspector was concerned about his International Transfer Certificate. He brought his card from Germany and was in German. FAS needed more documents. From the time that Loyola learned they were taking part in the tournament, they immediately went to the PFF for help in securing the document. It was not secured by the NSA.

Cortina’s paperwork came in only 15 minutes before the team arrived at the Jalan Besar Stadium. That’s as close to a photo finish. The lineup cannot be changed anymore because it will make a mess of things. They practiced with that starting eleven and it’s a no brainer they start with that.

Q: Did we play a quality opponent? Geylang after all is in the bottom of the S.League right now.
A: Of course they are a quality opponent. I think it’s ridiculous to assume to that all of a sudden Philippine clubs are better until that is put to the test. It’s a Cup competition. In case you don’t understand how it works, take a look at the English FA Cup or even our very own UFL Cup. It’s a different competition. It’s a chance for teams to pip the big ones.

Geylang lost several key players in the off-season and even at the start of the season and that really hurt them. They’ve even had a coaching change. Their most successful coach was even fired. While they've had some galling loses, they've had good performances such as the recent come back from two goals down to draw with Singapore Armed Forces that has its usually bevy of national players.

Did the Eagles come to play? They sure did. Their current league record doesn’t mean a thing in this competition. One of the current S.League leaders Tampines Rovers was in a dogfight as well with Phnom Penh Crown and it took a late goal by Aleksandar Duric to pip the Cambodians, 4-3.

Some people say that Loyola is nothing more than the Younghusband brothers. That is the farthest from the truth. They've got very good players such as Mark Hartmann who can be one of the best if he puts in a quality effort every game out. They've got excellent midfielders in Jake Morallo, Anto Gonzales, and Davide Cortina. Their much-maligned defense has the consistent Roxy Dorlas and Pat Ozaeta. Defender Minho Park atoned for his earlier boo boo that led to Geylang's first goal by firing the late winner.

On the other hand, the Eagles know a thing or two about being branded as a two-man team. In the post-match presscon, Geylang Coach Kanan Vedhamuthu was asked by the local media if their side relied too much on Slovakian midfielder Josef Kaplan and English midfielder Michael King. And, the answer is no. Not at all. Ishak Zainol and Syed Fadhil had scoring chances for their side as well. It’s just easier for the viewers to spot the Caucasian looking players. But I really like the quality of Michael King. Great skills and a mean free kick as well.

Q:  How was the match played?
A: Loyola played a 4231 while Geylang went out with a 433.

For the home side, it was a bold move. A departure from their previous 4231 that they ran against Singapore Armed Forces. They also went with the standard 442 in their previous matches.

Initially, their three forwards gave the Sparks trouble. Once the Sparks' defense took shape then it was all good.

What worked for Loyola? The two holding midfielders of Mark Hartmann and Anto Gonzales. While everyone played their role to perfection, I thought that the two were important to winning the game and it showed. They were the ones constantly running up and down the pitch. Switching from defense to offense. And Mark Hartmann played one of his best games in a Loyola shirt.

When Loyola began to dominate possession, Geylang dropped another forward back to a 442.

The Sparks controlled the regular 90-minutes. But come the extra 30-minute period, it was Geylang. Especially in the last 15-minutes. At the end of the game, Davide Cortina not starting turned out to be a blessing. He was fresh for the endgame and his energy and pace gave Loyola some menace up front.

Q: Why did Amani Aguinaldo look lost?
A: For one, it was a high level game unlike anything he’s played before. Second, he got confused from the different instructions his teammates were giving him. Right, Adrian Semblat? Give the kid a break. He’ll do fine.

Q: Was the team poorly conditioned and unfit?
A: No. They have been playing in the UFL haven’t they? They train regularly. Even in Singapore they did. There were no sightseeing or shopping trips save to buy gear and equipment.

They took their hydrite tablets, drank their Gatorade, warmed up, jogged, and stretched. Everything. The physio staff of the club did their jobs well.

The whole team was struck by cramping and there was no exception. When I asked the players about it –individually – they said the same things – it was the combined intensity of the match, the humidity, and the turf.

What does that mean? Roxy Dorlas, Pat Ozaeta, and Anto Gonzales are very very particular about conditioning. The last time that Dorlas suffered cramps in a match was four years ago! In a discussion with uber fan Ria de Leon the other week, she remarked to me how many players would fake their cramping. As a registered nurse, she knows how difficult it is to immediately stand up after cramps. In this match, no one was acting. Hence the early substitutions that the coaching staff didn’t count on.

The turf was excellent but hard unlike what you see on BGC (I did walk on it myself before the match). It was as simple also as getting used to the pitch. But you did see how marvelous the quality was. Think of how the UFL matches would be if played regularly on artificial turf?

Q: Who do I think is the best player/man of the match?
A: I’d love to go with Mark Hartmann but I’m going with Anto Gonzales. James Younghusband deserves a mention in there because even when he was clearly bothered by cramping, he was a gamer up front. I love how James confronted Josef Kaplan about his lack of fair play (Kaplan did make up for it later on when Elnar went down with cramps and I tip my hat off to the Slovakian). He conserved his energy for promising runs and ran when he had to. Ref Cuaresma shook off a shaky start to play well. But I’d give this to Gonzales. His energy and leadership on the pitch showed. I don't think the television broadcast did justice to that. With our excellent vantage point, we could see everything unfold from changes in formations to build-ups. And Gonzales was everywhere. We could all hear him from up high in the media tribune of the Jalan Besar Stadium. He was running up and down the field making passes and disrupting plays. He got in a good tackle or two. They way he marshaled and organized the defense was incredible. Did he complete all his passes? I think he did. And if you didn’t notice, he was the one player not really afflicted with cramping. When Alex Elnar went down with cramps, Gonzales slid back into the right back position and played exceptionally well.

Mark Hartmann was awesome. Scored the goal to get us back into it. Maybe I am looking at it from a technical standpoint, but I thought without Gonzales’ leadership and play in the back, we would have been hurt more. And if you recall in the recent second round match with Kaya, he also plugged the hole in right back.

Q: What does this match mean for Loyola, the UFL, and Philippine football?
A: While walking around Clarke Quay with Phil Younghusband, I posed him that question. He said that it comes close to the epic 2010 Suzuki Cup win over Vietnam. I felt the same way and he only confirmed what we all had in our minds.

It showed that we can compete given the right training, facilities, and players. The UFL undoubtedly feels proud of the moment. For four days, club allegiances or biases were put aside to support Loyola in the tournament.

I was with Solar Sports when we first broadcasted the matches of the Azkals. I was there in Vietnam for the Suzuki Cup and I was with Loyola for this start of this Singapore Cup. Like them, I feel blessed to be a witness who was up close to all this history in the making. Now it isn't only the Azkals who opponents will take seriously. They will have to take a long hard look at our clubs.


Tampines Rovers' forward and Singaporean scoring machine Aleksandar Duric went to watch the game in the stands. This reminded me of how Singapore coach Raddy Avramovich blew off any questions about the Philippines before the 2010 Suzuki Cup kicked off. After the 1-1 draw with Singapore and the 2-0 win over Vietnam, Abramovich and the other Lions players hung out with us at the lobby and we're sharing insights and stories. At least we know they are watching.


  1. Thank you Sir Rick for this. I'm a Diliman FC fan but a bigger fan of Coach Anto. I'm really hoping he gets called up for the Azkals friendlies this June. :D Let's go UFL!

  2. It was great to watch the Philippine club come from behind to win the match. Hartmann's goal was superb, as was James Younghusband's pinpoint cross, as well as the pass to him at the far right from (I think) Cortina, moments after Cortina had just gone in.

    Anto Gonzales is that rare athlete/coach right now, excelling both as a player , with Loyola FC, and as coach of UAAP Champions UP . More power to him!

  3. Just a little bit of constructive criticism / observation

    In one of your paragraphs (specifically, the last paragraph in your "quality opponent" response), the content drastically shifted from the Loyola to Geylang. As a result, I was taken by surprise, because instead of elaborating on why Loyola is "more than the Younghusband brothers," you start talking about how many scoring options Geylang had.

    Other than that, good article. For Man of the Moment however, it's a toss up for me between Anto Gonzales and Ref Cuaresma (especially during those last few minutes of the game...many a ball has been saved by him).

    1. Thanks. I realized that I didn't do a good job with my cut and paste. I appreciate you for telling me. I now put it the way it's supposed to be. Thanks again for reading.