A call to arms Part 1
Are we looking at an extended period of dominance by Global? The arms race just escalated big time. By Rick Olivares.
As it is with the start of every football season, one of the biggest stories are the new recruits and transferees and how their rosters hope to topple the defending champions.
The current class of the United Football League is Global. In three years of UFL play, they’ve won the Division Two title, the UFL Cup, and the Division One championship. Despite a slow start and undergoing three coaching changes (four if you count the interim coaching of their team owner), they finished the season in grand style.
Global isn’t looking to rest on their laurels. They have beefed up their squad that already features 13 former and current national players making them early favorites to sweep the pieces of silverware available.
Entering the second year of a historic five-year television deal with AKTV, the UFL from the cup to league play promises more games, even more exciting football action, and of course, drama.
The cup kicks off this October with 28 clubs – including eight guest teams – looking to unseat Air Force who survived an onslaught from unlucky Loyola. Do the Airmen, who looked mighty vulnerable during the league play, have enough to hold off the charge of the new wave of football clubs?
League play on the other hand will commence action in January next year.
So how did the rest of the UFL do in this arms race? We’re about to find out.
Global (champion, 13-3-2)
The ultimate lesson served by Global last season was – to crib a line from baseball’s Yogi Berra – “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Furthermore, Global bucked all sorts of on and off field drama, a semifinals loss to Air Force in the cup, then two losses in the first round of league play plus a few draws, before going into the penultimate playing day without another loss. There they drew 2-2 with Loyola and that was good enough for them to pip second-running Kaya on goal difference.
Now what hasn’t killed this club has made them stronger. They have the UFL’s top-rated defense and their offense just got a whole lot better with the addition of national team striker Denis Wolf plus new finds Matthew Uy on defense and Demetrius Omphroy in the midfield (although he can move up front).
Despite the loss of Angel Guirado (12 goals last season to lead the club) who bolted for a club in India, this Edwin Cabalida-coached squad will have Marvin and Marwin Angeles for a full season. The twins play much like James and Phil Younghusband do – with a great understanding of where the other will be on offense. Marwin should be able to find Wolf, Misagh Bahadoran, and Izzo El Habbib without much difficulty.
Aside from their stingy defense, one of the biggest strengths of this team is its speed especially on the counter attack. Jeffrey Christiaens may very well be the successor of Chieffy Caligdong on the left wing of the national team and having him on the flanks with Yu Hoshide and Marwin Angeles in the middle and Patrick Reichelt on the right translates into quick ball movement.
This is a stacked and loaded lineup. They’ll be heavy favorites to win both available trophies.
Coach: Edwin Cabalida
(OUT) Angel Guirado (Salgaocar), Ayi Nii Aryee (Green Archers United)
(IN) Kevin Capolei, Maverick Madayag, Fidelis Nnabuife (Nomads), Demetrius Omphroy, Romeu Rodrigues (Team Socceroo), Sadia Dely Roland, Matthew Uy, Denis Wolf, Delon Patrick Yao
Kaya (2nd place, 13-3-2)
The three-time former UFL champions nearly won it a record fourth time on the last playing day but Global drew with Loyola leaving Kaya tied with the former on points (42 each). However since Global had a superior goal difference, they took home the trophy leaving Kaya waiting at the altar.
Kaya was one of the best defensive teams last season as they only allowed 17 goals past keeper Saba Sedeghi. So how did they address their scoring woes? Well, for starters, expect Azkals skipper Aly Borromeo to be back in time for cup play -- not in the back where he made a name for himself but upfront. Upfront beside the quicksilver quick Eric Dagroh and Nate Burkey. They will have the returning Yannick Tuason who took a sabbatical in Italy to recharge his batteries.
But their biggest upgrade was reserved for the midfield as they brought in San Francisco State University alum Antonio Ugarte (the old Ugarte Football Field that is currently the Ayala Triangle is named after the brother of his grandfather). Ugarte, a Fil-American, has a good feel for the game with very good passing skills. He will be the team’s central midfielder where he will partner with Sean Illif, Eddie Mallari’s classmate from the United States. Illif brings a toughness to this team in the middle and like Ugarte has very good on-ball skills. OJ Porteria will also make his debut with Kaya and add scoring punch and ball wizardry to this secondary line. Toshiya Hosoe will be more than the second Japanese player in this squad as he adds depth to the middle third.
Lexton Moy will be back at least for the Cup play before he plays professionally in Hong Kong. Darren Hartmann transferred from Nomads and he looks to be in form for this competition.
Expect the backline to feature Eddie Mallari, Jason Sabio, Anton and Armand del Rosario, Jonah Romero, and Kross Ubiam.
Interestingly, there’s be some competition in the mix as Chicago Inferno keeper Troy Osborne joins the team that already has the league’s top goal keeper in Saba Sedeghi. Who will start? That is a game day decision.
This team addressed their internal issues last season and it would be interesting to see how they cope with a far deeper squad and competition that will crop up for playing time.
Coach: Kale Alvarez
(OUT) Prince Mark Boley, Evan Santos
(IN) Dario Dakic, Toshiya Hosoe, Sean Illif, Troy Osborne, OJ Porteria, Antonio Ugarte.
Loyola (3rd place, 11-4-3)
The clock is ticking on the Miami Heat, er, orange.
They came within a game of winning the cup and faltered down the stretch in league play. After that infamous meltdown, team captain James Younghusband exclaimed that they’re like the Miami Heat where they came close one year they achieved it in the next. There’s also a little pride that none of the two clubs that placed higher in the league defeated them. Now the onus is on the club to back up those words.
For a team that undertook the biggest roster overhaul at the start of the last season, they didn’t add much in the off-season. There are new parts here in there but they believe that after a year together, they have a better understanding of what it takes to win the UFL.
Scoring is not a problem for Loyola. The problem is their defense.
And they made quite a few changes from last year beginning at goal. Last season, they had Gabby Vorbeck, Patrick O’Donnell, and Lando Cabaniero caddying for starting keeper Ref Cuaresma. This season, they got a very capable backup in former Pachanga second string keeper Mark Sorongon who played extremely well the Red Phoenix’s record setting season in Division Two. Sorongon is tall and is a good defensive keeper who should provide good leadership in the back. The challenge for Coach Kim Chul So is to find minutes for Sorongon that will keep him sharp. Note that the more he played for Pachanga last year the better he got.
The back four on the other hand will be strengthened when former national player Chad Gould comes in. Gould can play multiple positions and his experience in the back will help. It is hoped that PJ Fadrigalan (who made his Loyola debut in the quarterfinals win over Kanbawza in the 2012 Singapore Cup) will close down the once porous right back position. Mainstays Byeong Yeol Jeong and Park Minho are there while Jo Won Jang and Hoon Goo Heo will help out.
Loyola has arguably one of the league’s best starting elevens. However, when they went to their bench there wasn’t much help. The addition of Gould and their K-Pop contingent should help.
As it is Loyola is the sum of three different parts – the Fil-foreigners, the homegrowns, and the Koreans. The Singapore Cup helped the team’s chemistry. The question now is, how does that translate into the new UFL season?
Coach: Kim Chul So
(OUT) Matthew Hartmann, Lando Cabaniero, Gabby Vorbeck, Gabby Borja, Alex Camara, Lawrence Ikeguwuruka
(IN) Chad Gould, Simon Greatwich (reactivated), Mark Sorongon, Rodrigue Nembot (from Union Internacional Manila), Paul Torres (Navy), Eric Giganto (FEU).
Stallion (4th place, 8-5-5)
They were the biggest story of the first round of last year’s league competition when they turned their game around from the physical brand they were previously known for to a more skillful one that was a sight to behold. They played beautiful football with accurate passing and clinical finishes. Balut Doctora became a star and received a call up to the national team along with Antonio Albor and Bervic Italia. Their midfield was celebrated for their crisp passing. And head coach Dr. Eu Hyung Pe looked like a local version of Pep Guardiola albeit a Korean one.
Stallion carved out huge victories and won five straight before teams figured out how to play them by disrupting the supply of forward balls from the midfield.
How Dr. Pe got two disparate groups – the homegrown Illongos and the Koreans who had made the Visayan province their home – to play great football was a huge accomplishment. They were a far cry from the long ball that Visayan clubs espoused.
This new season, they look to add some scoring punch with the arrival of Internacional de Madrid striker Rufo and Joaquin Cañas. Holding midfielder Jason de Jong can be a huge asset when he has his mind on the game and isn’t going after opponent’s ankles.
And that says a lot. When Stallion reverts to their former persona where they played highly physical football, it backfires as they rack up cards instead of goals.
They won’t be catching any clubs by surprise this season and they will have to raise their game a notch higher if they want to unseat the upper teams.
Stallion is battling for more than respect. They are out to show that with their new additions, they can win some silverware.
Coach Eu Hyung Pee
(OUT) Ansing Gustilo,
(IN) Rhante Bayquin, Joaquin Cañas (Madrid), Jason de Jong, Won Hyung Lee, Rufo Sanchez.
Air Force (5th place, 7-4-7)
The Airmen’s final league slate coincidentally mimics the designation of those jetliners of the past decade. Time sure flies. For two years, Air Force was the toast of the UFL winning back-to-back league titles including a thrilling cup win over Loyola.
Come the league. They faltered big time. Teams stopped the wing play that was crucial to their offense. When injuries knocked Chieffy Caligdong out, so did Air Force’s offense tank. Injured or not, the Airmen dished out some spectacular performances against Loyola who proved to be unlucky against the military team.
This is a crucial season for Air Force as with Army (the third military team, Navy, was relegated). Their inability to recruit and pay huge sums to outside players because of their ingrained system hurts them. Time was the best footballers in the country went to the military teams to continue their career. The growth of the club scene has somewhat killed that. In another time, the best players of Stallion and Pachanga would have gone to the Armed Forces teams to play. Now, because one can finally make a career in football, the military football teams are no longer an option.
But one cannot underestimate the pride that flows through the Airmen’s veins and swells in their hearts. Not only do they help protect our country but they also represent the hopes of others who otherwise will not get an opportunity to play for the national team with its predilection for foreign talent. Yanti Barsales defied all expectations with his superb play even as Caligdong went out. Caligdong is healthy and they still have the dangerous Ian Araneta. But the challenge is for their defense to hold fast despite having the reliable Tats Mercado to mind the net. Air Force hopes that the addition of Mark Anthony Fernandez from Pasargad will shore up that backline.
With time for this reality to sink in, second year coach Sgt. Edzel Bracamonte, who succeeded Edwin Cabalida as coach and won the cup in his debut on the sidelines, will have to do his best coaching this season. It would be foolhardy to bet against the former champs. Watch out.
Coach: Sgt. Edzel Bracamonte
(IN) Paul Concepcion, Mark Anthony Fernandez (Pasargad), Neckson Leonora (Pachanga)
WATCH OUT FOR PART 2 AS WE LOOK AT THE OTHER DIVISION ONE TEAMS.