AFC Cup: Kaya 1, New Radiant 0 – The Youth Movement delivers
Porteria led Kaya's youngsters to victory. OJ Porteria's heart-stopping one-time volley finish with mere seconds left will be the defining moment of this match. At the age of 20, Porteria has already etched his name into Kaya lore with that historic strike off Junior Muñoz's cross. But Kaya's other fresh-faced players also stepped up.
Dominic Del Rosario, still just 19, came on as a second-half substitute for the injured Janrick Soriano and turned heads with some neat plays, like a perfect short square pass to Porteria in the box, and a lovely 1-2 with Woody Ugarte minutes later. Then he nearly connected on a longer pass to Kenshiro Daniels.
Daniels, who just turned 21, was a threat on the right flank all game long and combined well with the rest of the midfield.
Nonoy Felongco, 22 showed his trademark pace out of left back and looked dangerous bombing forward. I still prefer him at left wing to left back though. He let the New Radiant right winger slip past him for a few frightening moments late in the game with the score at 0-0. A move upfield will also help showcase his offensive skills, which include a rare ability to score from either foot.
These 3 players still have their best ahead of them, and the same is true for other Kaya players who did not get into the game, like Charlie Beaton, (20), and Carlo Liay, (23). If this Kaya team stays together for a while, they could do a lot of damage locally and internationally going forward.
Next assignment for the Kaya scouts: to find young but promising Filipino centerbacks. Julian Matthews, a Filipino-Aussie defender, could be one for the future if he continues to develop. He turns 22 in two weeks.
Tantalizing Tanton. A relative graybeard at the age of 26, Miguel Tanton was Kaya's best player in the scoreless first half. Tanton is native of Santa Clara, California, where the NFL's San Francisco 49ers are based. The midfielder did his best Joe Montana impression with a pair of decent deliveries in the first 45 minutes, both to Porteria.
Tanton is very confident on the ball, and his double-clutch, back-and-forth, drag-back move could come from someone with a futsal background.
Despite a less influential second half, Tanton has, in my view, done enough to merit at least a second glance from Azkals selectors. Unfortunately, the national team is stacked with midfielders.
Tactical notes. The big news in the beginning of the game was the switcheroo up front by Kaya coach Joel Villarino. (The AFC Cup requires the head coach of a team to have an “A” license, which Villarino has, but the regular Kaya coach, Chris Greatwich, has yet to procure. No doubt Greatwich still had a lot of input in the game decisions.)
Jovin Bedic, who started “in the hole,” or behind the target man against Kitchee two weeks ago, was moved up to the top of the formation, and Porteria, the ertswhile target man, or “number 9,” against the Hong Kong side, slid back to the “number ten” role behind Bedic. Perhaps the move was necessitated by the presence of the Maldivian side's two power forward-sized centerbacks, Michael Awoniyi and Velichko Velichkov, since Bedic is taller than Porteria. It didn't quite pan out in the first half stalemate, largely thanks to the visitors discipline and organization in defense.
For the start of the second half, Bedic seemed to drop deeper into the middle of the park, his preferred spot. One of Bedic's strengths is his vision and passing touch, which is better employed closer to the middle of the field. Eventually he was subbed by Woody Ugarte, who has been battling a groin issue. Ugarte could have scored, but his free header was inches over the bar.
When Del Rosario trotted onto the field for the injured Janrick Soriano, I thought it would be a like-for-like swap with Del Rosario replacing Soriano at right back. Instead the more seasoned Muñoz, 28 years of age, slid to right back and Del Rosario was free to frolic in an advanced role. Perhaps the Kaya coaches wanted some more experience in corralling the very dangerous Ahmed Suhail. But ironically, it was Muñoz who produced the winning assist anyway.
Kaya found a way to win despite being badly shorthanded. Not only was Ugarte not fit to start, but Kaya was without two of their biggest scoring threats, Louis Clark and Robert Lopez-Mendy. The Northern Ireland-born Clark, who played collegiate soccer in Syracuse University, aggravated a quadriceps strain when he was brought out as a late sub versus Kitchee. Thus on Tuesday he was in street clothes. However, he is hopes to train later this week and contribute next Tuesday for the second game of the AFC Cup home stand against Balestier Khalsa.
Kaya was was unable to get Lopez-Mendy's paperwork straightened out and it appears he could miss the whole competition. The Senegalese is an imposing, fast-improving forward who came over from Green Archers in the offseason.
The fact that Kaya came out on top without these key cogs in the match proves they have the character to succeed in the AFC Cup. No doubt they will need to keep their noses on the grindstone. There will likely be other bigger challenges than this Maldivian club who were defensive and bereft of ideas for much of the night.
Kaya is winning the sponsors game too. It is good to see that Kaya have made friends with Jamba Juice, Isuzu, and Yellow Cab, who were peddling their pizza in the stands. LBC is Kaya's main sponsor. All 4 companies' logos adorn the current Kaya kit.
Football needs money to develop and thrive. Thus it's heartwarming to see these corporate entities associate themselves to football. Lets hope more success on the pitch will attract even more businesses to the beautiful game. We all know their help is crucial. This feel-good win will certainly help.
Ceres made it two-for-two on Tuesday with a 2-0 win in Bangladesh. What a great night for Pinoy club football. Enjoy these highlights. The busmen go to 4 points in their group with the win.
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.