Football: The 2016 UFL League is heating up
The United Football League, our nation's de facto premier football competition, is at a crossroads. A new national league is planned for next year, and it's still unsure how the UFL will or will not coexist along with that new competition.
This is also apparently the last year of the league's contract with broadcaster TV5. There is no definite idea yet on which network will be airing Filipino club football next year.
The lack of parity within the league is also plain to see, ever since the two divisions merged into one league this year. As of press time, the top 4 teams have goal differences of +35, +61, +47 and +21.
And yet despite all of these issues, the league continues to produce its share of thrilling football. Here are some of the top storylines around the league.
Global are setting the pace. Leigh Manson's team are atop the division with a perfect record; 9 wins from 9 matches. According to their goalkeeper coach, Jorge Kuriyama, they have gone 720 minutes in the league without conceding a goal. In their most recent match over the weekend they blanked Green Archers United Globe 4-0.
In previous years Global was know for their defense. Once upon a time the central defense pairing of Angge Tresor-Guiso and Val Kama helped shut down access to the goal manned by Roland Dely Sadia. The right back was typically Jerry Barbaso. That grouping very rarely leaked in scores. Even though Barbaso is the only one left in the side, Global still has an airtight defense much of the time.
These days its Amani Aguinaldo and Milan Nikolic in the center, with promising youngster Marco Casambre being developed as well. Azkal Patrick Deyto dons the gloves.
Omid Nazari, the experienced Filipino-Swede-Iranian, has been a revelation this year with his finishing and power coming out of the midfield.
Global has already won the 2016 UFL Cup. If they are to continue this torrid pace they could very well add the league to their trophy closet. Ceres (8-0-1) will be hot on their heels. They have just acquired Azkals keeper Roland Müller and have a new Serbian head coach in Risto Vidakovic.
Our players are going places. The remarkable thing about the rise of Global is that they are doing it sans two of their top guns. Mark Hartmann has transferred to Singapore outfit Geylang International, while mercurial left back Daisuke Sato has offered his John Hancock to top-tier Romanian club CS Municipal Studențesc Iași.
CSMS are in the second round of qualifying for a place in the 2016-17 UEFA Europa Cup. If they reach that competition, Sato will join Azkals teammates Stephan Schrock, Neil Etheridge, Stephane Palla, Jerry Lucena, and Martin Steuble as the only Filipinos to play in that very prestigious tournament. Dennis Cagara also played in the competition when it was still known as the UEFA Cup.
Just a few days ago Kaya's OJ Porteria announced that he was departing the club to seek greener pastures in either the US or Europe. It would be amazing if Porteria could latch on to a team in either the second-tier NASL or third-tier USL. That would already be an achievement. A trial with a top-tier Major League Soccer team would be beyond amazing.
If these players do well in their new clubs, it could really raise the profile of Philippine club football and show that we can develop world-class players. Hartmann may have gotten the foundation of his game abroad but much of his seasoning was with Loyola, Global, and the Azkals. The same can be said for the other two, especially Porteria.
JP Voltes is the team on the rise. The squad formerly known as Manila All-Japan earned promotion to the top tier last season, only to find out that they didn't need it when the Division 1 and Division 2 merged.
But in 2016 they have proved that they do belong in the upper echelon. Last Sunday they stunned Loyola 2-1, days after defeating Kaya 3-1. They are now sitting fourth in the 12-team league as of press time.
The third goal of the Kaya match was one of the all-time great scores in the history of the league, a jaw-dropping 60-meter, international viral-worthy, lob by Takumi Uesato. Watch it at 4:00 of this clip.
It's understood that the name of the team means “Japan and Philippines Volt-in,” and that is a correct description of how the team works.
The creative force of the side is Yu Hoshide, a long time Global player who orchestrates from the midfield with Takashi Odawara. Both try to feed Uesato while Allen Angeles, a Filipino-Japanese, operates from the flank. There is another foreign-born Pinoy in JP, ex-Azkal William Guerridon Espiñosa.
Anchoring the defense is ex-Global player Masaki Yanagawa, a central defender with J- League experience and a knack for heading the ball in off set plays.
Pretty much the rest of the squad getting playing time is from here. The goalkeeper is the fast-improving Nelson Gasic, the former Lyceum goalie from Baguio. Yanagawa's centerback partner is the very highly-rated Bacolod product, Camelo Tacusalme, who moved over from Ceres. The fullbacks are PJ Fadirgalan from Santa Cruz, Laguna, and Alexandro Elnar from Bacong, Negros Oriental.
Fadrigalan and Elnar are teammates in a third different team, having been together in Loyola and Jeepney as well. I once took in a JP game beside then-Ceres coach Ali Go and he marveled at the industry and hard work displayed by the pair.
J Baguioro is another ex-Ceres player getting good minutes in an attacking role, while Barotacnon John Celiz scored a terrific 1v1 goal in the Loyola game. Celiz is a former Army player. Ateneo's Mikko Mabanag comes off the bench.
It can be said that it's a team of cast-offs, but these guys are more accurately described as veterans of this league who have a lot to offer. You can just imagine the dossiers of information about opposing players locked in the brtains of Fadrigalan and Elnar.
Mabanag says the JP Voltes training is a bit unorthodox but efficient. They train from ten am to noon on most days. There's lots of video review, with Hoshide, who leads the team alongside official coach Kyo Nagami, preaching simplicity and humility.
“Hindi talaga pwedeng mayabang ka sa JPV,” says the former Ateneo captain. (You really can't be arrogant in JPV.)
Hoshide turns 39 next month and is still going strong, dishing brilliantly on Uesato's goal in the Loyola game. Laos FC captain Bads Elhabbib refers to him as a “maestro,” while the Angeles brothers of Ceres, who used to play with him in Global, call him “sensei.”
Voltes supports the Branch Forth Foundation in helping underprivileged kids learn football. Many of those kids are seen at their games. If JPV can continue their form, their fanbase will only grow.
The league has visitors in two weeks time. The Perth Glory, an Australian team that finished fifth in the top-tier A-League last season, is having its training camp in the Philippines. There will be three friendly matches here, versus Global on the 20th in Rizal Memorial, against a UFL All-Star Selection on the 23rd, also in RMS, and then the clash against the Azkals on July 26th in the new artificial pitch in Bantay, Ilocos Sur.
This is yet another indication of the growing reputation of Filipino club football. Let's hope for 3 close, intense matches, and good showing from our boys, who have grown and blossomed in this underrated league. – Rappler.com