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, June 10, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #314: Seeing red and singing the blues

This appears in the Monday, June 11, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Seeing red and singing the blues
Pachanga and Union are headed separate directions. It isn’t easy given the ties that bind.
by rick olivares

Union Internacional Manila prepared for its match with Pachanga without two of its longtime stalwarts – midfielder Peter Amores and coach-manager-owner Rafa Rodriguez. The team arrived at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium 20 minutes before kickoff and immediately began changing into their match kits. Amores was in Boracay with the Futkaleros while Rodriguez was unavailable.

Pachanga on the other hand arrived around 130pm, two hours and thirty minutes before kickoff.

That the two teams are heading in opposite directions will go unnoticed to this new generation of football fans. Heading into the match against Union, the Red Phoenix was a minimum of six points away from promotion to Division One. Union on the other hand, were at fifth place in the UFL’s Division Two standings.

While technically, Union International Manila is a new club, one can't help but feel that with some familiar faces in the current lineup from Amores, Rodriguez, Mo Ibrahim, and Jorge Muller, it resembles the old Union FC or "The Blue Machine" as they were nicknamed in the days when they along with Pasargad were the kings of local club football. The old Union were the first ever winner of the Terry Razon Cup in 2006. They made it a double that year when they won the UFL. And back-to-back UFL titles the following year. They were the first ever club to have their own website, their own booster club who wore scarves on match day, and the club’s motto is “sobretodo, lealtad a Union” (Loyalty, above all to Union) appeared on their every mode of communication.

Unfortunately, this squad is nothing like its former self. The lack of financial support doomed the old Union squad. In one tournament, the team wasn’t even able to finish its stint when its players stopped showing up. It was thought that their troubles would end when they bought out by Negros Occidental Football Association President Charlie Cojuancgo. There was no such luck. The team disbanded and yet somehow resurfaced once more under Rodriguez. And much like former champion Pasargad when it returned to the UFL, they floundered (although the former has done well in the league competition with some high profile transfers during the March window). 

Although Amores will not suit up for the now-Jorge Muller coached squad, he is the longest tenured player for the team that once boasted of stalwarts like Chieffy Caligdong (now with Air Force), Alvin Ocampo (now an assistant coach with Pachanga), Jeff Blake (now minding the nets for Nomads), Masih Rezai (now with Kaya), Taku Yoshioka (who would later play for Loyola), Alex Obiang (now scoring goals for Global), Neco Lambey (on and off coaching Team Socceroo), Ayi Aryee (the former team captain/playing coach who now suits up for Global), and Marco Nieto. They were an international team very much like how many division one clubs look now. “Those were the glory days,” reflects Amores who feels pangs of pain as teams rain goals on his longtime club.

Across the field, there’s Yves Felix Ashime who used to anchor the defense for Union but is now the captain for Pachanga. Ashime smiles that sleepy disarming smile of his. His time with Union was good, thinks Ashime, but life moves on.

For the Red Phoenix, they refuse to talk about moving up the UFL’s Division One where they feel unwanted by the powers that be. Just as there are ties to Union through Ashime the umbilical cord with Kaya and Global cannot be denied.

Pachanga was born when some players left Kaya due to personal disputes. That it was a club owned by their longtime striker Freddy Gonzalez is no coincidence. Although some of these players have since returned to Kaya there is still some resentment from the latter.

However, the burgeoning rivalry is Global and Pachanga. Twice they have faced each other in the Smart Club Championships and the UFL Cup and twice Global has come away winners. Each of the games were of the elimination variety. Pachanga hopes to face them soon and they say there will not be a third win by Global.

Ironically, four of Red Phoenix stalwarts have played with Global. Goalkepeer Kenneth Dolloso and midfielder Boyet Cañedo joined Pachanga during the UFL Cup. Left wingback Janrick Soriano and midfielder William Guerridon followed during league play. It got to a point where one Global executive texted the Red Phoenix’ manager Jojo Rodriguez to stop poaching their players. Rodriguez smiled, “I didn’t speak with them. They came to us.”

For the match against Union, the Red Phoenix refuse to talk about any promotion to Division One or anything else. They are focused on only one thing – beating Union.

Pachanga quickly dominates possession and dictates the tempo. Soon enough, they pick apart Union’s defense with their passing but are unable to finish. From the sidelines, Red Phoenix head coach Norman Fegidero thunders at some of his players for lacking a sense of urgency. When Fegidero played no matter if his team wasn’t on par with the opponent, he always played hard, hence, his goals.

Eventually the goals come. Unfortunately, Union is a man down when it comes. The fourth official momentarily recalls defender Friday Uche outside when it is noticed that he is not wearing his registered number. Furthermore, he is wearing a slightly different uniform.

The first goal is a three-pass masterpiece when midfielder Shirmar Felongco fires a free kick to striker Joven Bedic who is lurking just outside the left side of the Union box. Bedic pushes the ball a bit and draws the defense before laying the ball to Cañedo who fires from some five feet beyond the box. The ball dips just under the outstretched arms of Union keeper Albert Llevares. One-nil Pachanga.

Uche rejoins his beleaguered squad on the field and that isn’t enough to stem the red tide.

Minutes later, another three-pass set where Gonzalez finds Cañedo with a head flick. The midfielder passes back to left back Camelo Tacusalme who has joined the attack. From nearly the same area where Cañedo volleyed earlier, Tacusalme, fires and the shot finds the back of the net.

Union musters enough offense to send Pachanga backpedalling but their attack lacks support. Ashime, Soriano, Tacusalme, and midfielder Ousseynou Diop have no trouble stealing the ball away.

There’s a moment when Elcid Garcia almost gets inside the box but the shot is blundered away.

Pachanga pours it on and Muller surveys his bench. There’s not much but nevertheless, he sends in Shaheen Ahmad who may be half Diop’s size but is not lacking in heart. Ahmad, races up and down the left wing trying to find his strikers, but Pachanga’s defense is just too good. Mercifully, the carnage ends but not before Red Phoenix reserve Paolo Misa is set up beautifully by Joshua Fegidero. Misa obliges and scores his first goal for Pachanga since his March transfer from Diliman. The match ends with an 8-0 win for Pachanga.

The mother of Ahmad is relieved the carnage is over, “Thank God, it is over. I feel bad for them (Union). The loss leaves Union with an 8-5-7 record, still good for fifth place, slightly ahead of Forza on goal differential and a game ahead of dismal Laos and inconsistent Team Socceroo. Pachanga on the other hand are now at 19-1-0 with two matches left to play. They now tote a 112-plus goal differential and have kept 14 consecutive clean sheets. They still refuse to think about Division One and have only one thing in mind – the next game.

As the players of Union left the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium while the Pachanga players hung around a bit, Elcid Garcia walked over and smiled, “Well, there’s next game and next season to look forward to.”

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