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 6, 2012

UFL Saturday: Heart-stopping, controversial & emotionally draining

Read a variant of this story in the Tuesday, May 8, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

UFL Saturday: Heart-stopping, controversial & emotionally draining
by rick olivares

The Philippine football scene has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 15 months so one has to make an excuse for the bumps on the road.

While the national team and the quality of the game have improved, officiating, sadly, has not. And last Saturday, May 5, for all intents and purposes encapsulated the need to take a long and serious look at what needs fixing.

The two UFL Division One matches – Air Force vs. Army in the day’s first match, and Loyola vs. Stallion in the main game, was a repeat of last January 28’s matches.

May 5, was long circled in red by Loyola.

After absorbing an embarrassing 4-1 loss to Stallion in that January 28 tiff, the Sparks looked to the second round meeting to avenge the loss and to hopefully climb atop the league standings once more.

Save for Loyola scoring the opening goal once more, the match was anything unlike their first round encounter as the Sparks completely dominated the game in every facet.

Loyola for one, has gotten better. The stunning loss to Pasargad in the second round put Global ahead and served as a chilling reminder for the Sparks to come out, play the game hard, and respect their foes as everyone is out to knock them out.

Stallion on the other hand has been hurt by the lull between matches. Ever since the stunning draw with Pasargad (that has made a name for itself as a spoiler this season), the Iloilo-based football club has blown hot and cold. The beautiful passing game that has been a hallmark in their style of play in the first four matches of the season is almost now a memory. They have played that kind of game in spurts. What hurt them all the more have been injuries to key personal. And the suspensions didn’t help them one bit heading into the second round encounter with Loyola.

Seemingly, once Stallion realized that they were not going to be the Sparks, they resorted to rough play; one they supposedly abandoned after the UFL Cup.

Unfortunately for Stallion, two of their players – goalkeeper Wilson Munoz and defender Yeul Woo Nam -- were sent off for incurring a pair of yellow cards during the match. True to their never-say-die attitude, Stallion continued to attack never mind if they were down 3-0 after James Younghusband dove in and booted the ball past second keeper Louie Jay Sobrevega.

But with the game in stoppage time, matters turned for the worse for Stallion when forward Yong Jae Pi was called for offside. Stallion coach Eu Hyung Pe kicked a water bottle onto the pitch forcing a stoppage in play. The rest of the coaching staff – assistant coach Richard Bedia, trainer Friday Bayona, liaison officer Tyrone Panaguiton, and team manager JR Robles – stormed the linesman along the touchline in vociferous protest. The only one who did not join the coaching staff in protest was managing head coach Ernie Nierras who did his best to pacify and pull away his colleagues before the match officials threw them out. It was too late.

All five, Dr. Pe included, were thrown out. Even worse, they will be suspended for the next match with UFL officials saying that it is possible that Robles might be banned for the rest of the season because it was his third time to be ejected in this tournament.

And during Stallion’s next match, they will also be without the services of Muñoz, Nam, and central back Jake Hugo due to cards. They will however have the services of Ruben Doctora Jr. and Bo Bae Park.

The win put Loyola once more atop the standings after Global drew with Nomads, 1-1. Although both squads had 31 points, Loyola has a superior goal difference, 29-25.

Stallion on the other hand, dropped to a 6-4-2 record, good enough for fourth place in the standings but nine points adrift from Loyola.

The first match of the day’s Division One double header, pitted service rivals Air Force and Army that battled to a 2-2 draw. It was the same result as their first round meet. And just as it was back then, it was costly for Air Force.

The Airmen went in to the match with morale low. Striker Yanti Barsales said that in his 19 years of playing club football, he had never seen his squad struggle in a competition.

And for a brief moment, Air Force showed why in the face of change in local football, they will always be a force to be reckoned with when three perfect passes led to a Barsales header for the match’s first goal. Incredibly, three minutes later, in the 28th minute, forward Meliton Pelayo of Army banged home the equalizer.

Air Force’s Ian Araneta, who for long stretches, was having a quiet match, scored what appeared to be the marginal goal when he claimed a penalty off a foul inside the Army box. The foul – called by Ritaga on Eduardo Gempisaw – was disputable as Barsales appeared to fall because of the pitch. Army midfielder Jeff Lobaton was incensed by the call that he kicked the ball out of bounds. Ritaga showed him a card and Lobaton charged the official and nearly threw a haymaker.

Lobaton was shown the red card leaving Army one man short. In the 72nd minute, Romano Vestal, who had come in for the ineffective Luisito Brilliantes, saw Air Force keeper Tats Mercado somewhat off his line. Vestal launched a shot that evaded the fingertips of Mercado for an incredible equalizer.

A total of 10 cards were handed out by Ritaga who also officiated the controversial first round match between Air Force and Loyola where 10 cards were also levied against the players.

The draw effectively knocked Air Force out of title contention as they remained at fifth place with a 3-4-5 record with only 13 points (ahead of Nomads who also have the same points total but lag behind on goal differential). Even with six matches left, even assuming they claim the maximum points available, they will have 31 points. Loyola, Global, and Kaya all have 31 points as of today and they all have six more matches to play. If any of them tack on one more point then Air Force will have ceded their throne.

Army Sgt. Ricky Cain was glad to have finished the match with a draw. But he felt his side had been robbed. Army remained at a disappointing seventh place with a 2-4-7 record with 13 points.

To say that the day’s double header was emotional is an understatement. They were nerve wracking and emotionally draining as well.

While the UFL will really have to look into the lapses – once more an gross understatement – in officiating, for Loyola, Global, and Kaya, every match from hereon will have the feel of an elimination match.

1 comment:

  1. Growing pains. But its good to hear that UFL chair Araneta has taken the lead in establishing a pool of referees. May I suggest that just like in the PBA, that the UFL should videotape all its games for the purpose of 1st reviewing the performance of its officials; 2nd using the tape as basis for decisions especially on infractions made by players; 3rd create a library of games that the teams can use for scientific scouting and lastly that the games be uploaded for "guerilla" televised games as the public especially those from the Visayas is clamoring for more tv games. Thanks and hope this observation helps in the improvement of football. God bless - UFL Fan