The Passionate Fan
FEU won the men’s seniors and women’s UAAP Season 77 football titles on Sunday, with the men defeating DLSU 3-2 in extra time hours after the Lady Tams overcame UP 2-1. The high school team of Far Eastern also won the juniors title last week, a fifth in a row. That means FEU has the treble, a clean sweep of all three UAAP football crowns, for the second year in a row, an incredible achievement in these very tough competitions. Here are my thoughts.
The men’s final had everything we expect from a cup final. Before the game I ran into Chuck Severino, who is the proud La Sallian who wears a dog suit in Azkals games. On Sunday he was decked out in full La Sallian Robin Hood regalia, with a green cape, green felt hat, green eye mask and what looked like an authentic wooden crossbow. All that was missing was… an arrow.
“They probably wouldn’t have let me bring it into the stadium,” explained Severino.
An Archer without ammo? Perhaps not the best omen going into a big game.
But an hour into the contest, with the score deadlocked 0-0, it seemed like both teams went into battle with empty quivers. DLSU coach Hans Smit’s curious decision to field Yoshiharu Koizumi, usually a deep-lying playmaker, at target forward was a bit odd, and it did not prosper. But the La Sallian defense thwarted every Tamaraw attempt.
And then, a frenzy of goals ensued, with DLSU leading twice and FEU storming back to tie 1-1 and 2-2 to send the game into extra time.
There was controversy too as referee Rey Ritaga failed to give FEU a penalty late. In the extension he sent Arnel Amita and Nicholas Ferrer off.
But FEU found an extra gear in the end of regulation and in extra time to send DLSU crashing to their first loss of the season with Paolo Bugas’ deflected winner.
The Tams showed tremendous character and mental toughness in coming from behind. The game was a microcosm of a rollercoaster Season 77 where they struggled at times, losing to NU and dropping points to UP. But in the game, as in the season, they finished strong.
My Man of the Match was Eric Giganto, who scored on the night and also dished off to Jhan Jhan Melliza on his goal after expertly handling a long pass. In previous years all the talk with FEU has been about Paolo Bugas, Melliza, and Amita. Giganto proves that he is their equal at the very least.
Giganto finishes the season with seventeen strikes, more than any other, but because he got suspended in this season, was ineligible to get the Golden Boot award, which went to UP’s Jinggoy Valmayor.
FEU are reaping the rewards of building a program the right way. There is really nothing particularly trailblazing or innovative about how FEU became the 400-pound gorilla of Pinoy youth football. They simply decided to recruit high school kids to get them playing and growing up side-by-side as they segued to the collegiate game. Add a world-class mentor with Kim Chul Su, have them train on a proper pitch, and FEU just had to wait for it all to come together.
Remember, this FEU team flamed out in the Season 75 semis, squandering twice-to-beat against the Maroons. They weren’t quite ready for greatness then, but FEU was patient, and now the men could be en route to a dynasty.
FEU just may be the closest thing the Philippines has to a football academy, where promising young kids study while honing their craft in a very serious environment. The product is a juggernaut that will surely help bolster the national team for years to come.
DLSU is thinking along the same lines on a smaller scale. By next school year they will have four Ilonggo prospects in the De La Salle-Zobel high school football program and another from Don Bosco. One of the Ilonggos is Chieffy Caligdong’s nephew, I’m told.
Imagine if we had three, four, or even five of these kinds of programs all over the country? Wishful thinking maybe, but that could definitely make us even more competitive regionally without relying as much on overseas-born players.
And for the ladies? Alumnus Let Dimzon, who helped coach the Lady Tams into a three-peat powerhouse under the watchful eye of Master Kim. Dimzon must have a top-drawer football mind, since she topped an international coaching course in Germany last year which had male and female coaches from all over the world.
But the real sensei of FEU is Kim. His English is halting at best, but he must know how to wring every ounce of quality from a promising kid. Vince Santos, FEU football head, said that Kim insists that every FEU player master a set of twenty “foundation skills.” But his playbook goes a lot, lot deeper than the basics.
In one of the games last season I saw an FEU player trap the ball with his butt. It was one of the strangest things I had ever seen on a football field. That player was then substituted soon after. I asked Chy Villaseñor, an FEU player sitting out this season, if Kim yanked him because he was upset about his showboating.
“Ah hindi,” answered Villaseñor dryly. “Siya (Kim) ang nagturo nun.”
(Oh no, he taught us that.)
The Tamaraws love their quirky, unorthodox Korean mentor and Giganto said it best after the title-clinching triumph.
“Bininigay niya ang lahat sa team, kahit may ibang issue o health problem,” says the striker.
“Tinuro niya na kung gaano ka-husay ang leader, ganyan din dapat ang team. Itinatak ko yan sa puso ko.”
(He gives everything to the team even when he has health problems or other issues. He teaches that how good a leader is, that’s how good his team should be. I have etched that on my heart.”)
Kudos to La Salle. The DLSU community really turned out for this game. Teo Ocampo and Bixie Reyes, true-green La Sallian footballers, whipped out a batch of retro shirts that used a Green Archer ball mascot designed by alum Pidong Alba in the late ’80s. The crowd was at least 60% green, not surprising since the stadium sits in the shadow of the T. Yuchengco building on the La Salle campus.
Their players responded with a tough, opportunistic performance that just fell short. FEU were a bit superior man-for-man, but the Tamaraws made some bad errors, like keeper Mike Menzi’s six-second violation and poor positioning on Sabin Bustamante’s goal, and ill-advised cards from Noli Chavez, Nicholas Ferrer, and Audie Menzi. FEU dodged some bullets. This game was winnable for the Archers.
A word on the format change. Last year there was twice-to-beat in the semis then a best-of-three finals. The coaches, Hans Smit especially, asked for and got the present format, a single-game semis and a single game final.
Had we stuck with the previous format, DLSU would lick their wounds from this loss then relish a game two with Amita and Ferrer both suspended for Far Eastern. Food for thought.
A word about the keepers. FEU’s ladies won the ladies’ title match 2-1. The overwhelming emotion afterwards was the sadness for Nic Adlawan, the Lady Maroons keeper, who muffed a long shot by Alesa Dolino for the first FEU goal then hesitated on Ina Araneta’s header strike for 2-0.
Goalkeeper is a tough position, and I feel terrible for Adlawan, who made several other great stops and excursions out of her box in the game.
Paeng De Guzman was similarly inconsolable for DLSU. But he is the league’s best keeper, and he can take heart from the presence of another La Sallian goalie who never won a UAAP title but went on to better things and helped comfort the team after the loss: Patrick Deyto.
Pinoys can get into football if the teams playing are linked to a community. This is the lesson of this final game. The grandstand was 80% full, with many fans fleeing to the bleachers once the sun fell. The atmosphere was noisy and passionate. For one night, all seemed well with Philippine football.
Hopefully when the national league comes, community-based club football will really take off.
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.
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