Philippines Football League previews: Voltes, Kaya, Meralco, Stallion
The Philippines Football League is almost upon us. The competition, a quadruple round-robin affair, begins on Saturday, May 6, and will finish with a playoff round in November. The action promises to be very intense, as the teams appear closely matched. Let's take a look at each of them closely. The teams are listed in alphabetical order.
JP Voltes Marikina
Home field: Marikina Sports Complex
The Japanese-flavored team raised many eyebrows by finishing fourth in last year's UFL League. But solid management and plenty of experienced players will once again make coach Dan Padernal's team a force to be reckoned with.
Marikina's central defense pairing of Masaki Yanagawa and Camelo Tacusalme is as solid as it gets. Yanagawa is also a splendid header of the ball off set pieces. Both know the other teams inside and out and will rely on new signing, Fil-Japanese Kouichi Belgira, on the left side and likely either PJ Fadrigalan or Alex Elnar on the right.
Incidentally Belgira, who played for the Sparks last season, is also in the U22 national team for the SEA Games.
The defense sits in front of Baguio-born keeper Nelson Gasic, who played every single minute for JPV last season and won the golden glove award for his shot stopping.
New recruits include Aaron Altiche from Laos, central defender David Basa from Stallion, and Sean Kane, a Fil-Am defensive mid from Kaya. Backing up Gasic in goal will be Jhun Tripulca, a very gifted young keeper from Legaspi whose main job last year in Laos FC was to turn potential 12-0 blowouts into more respectable 5-0 losses with his goalkeeping. He did that task brilliantly and is thus rewarded with a contract in JPV.
The heart of the team is still Takashi Odawara, the towering presence in the midfield, and striker Takumi Uesato. As long as these two Japanese imports are on song, the team can beat anyone. Joining them is new signing Atsushi Shimono, a 29-year-old midfielder who previously played in Singapore.
Filipino Japanese Allen Angeles and Satoshi Otomo will likely complement the attack along with the hellaciously quick J Baguioro.
JPV will play their home matches in the Marikina Sports Center once the field and the surroundings are sorted out. The players themselves are helping spruce things up themselves, as this pic shows.
Home field: University of Makati Stadium
The 2015 Cup champs are raring to go in the PFL with a host of new players. OJ Porteria has fled to Ceres but other pieces of the puzzle will pick up the slack.
Ref Cuaresma is a journeyman ex-national team goalie who, even in his mid-30s, is still very effective. Cuaresma has previously played for Navy, Meralco, Manila Jeepney, and Stallion. Now he comes to Kaya to replace the departed Matthew Acton.
The Dumaguete native is one of just a handful of quality Filipino keepers with international experience, and is thus a big pick up for Chris Greatwich. Kaya is now able to burn their foreigner spots in other places on the park.
Other players have also been tapped. Jayson Panhay, formerly of Ceres, is an underrated midfielder who gives Kaya a left-footed free kicker and crossing ability from the left flank. The Angeles twins, Marwin and Marvin, have also made the leap from Panaad to Umak. Marwin is a capable midfielder who has scored for the national team while Marvin can provide some quality in the second-striker role.
Jalsor Soriano is the fourth ex-Busman to arrive to Makati. He joins his brother Janrick. Jalsor can play the right back position that was vacated when Junior Muñoz went the other direction, going from Kaya to Ceres. In effect, it's a straight up trade between the two sides and it's hard to say who really is better off on the swap. Jalsor joins Janrick, a speedy impact-sub type of player who has been with Kaya for years now. (The other footballing Soriano brother, Jalor, is with Philippine Air Force FC.)
Kaya also brings in two new strikers; Jordan Mintah and Patrik Franksson. Mintah, a Ghanaian, comes over from Stallion. He has the ability to be a truly elite striker in this league. Kaya already has Robert Lopez Mendy in the squad and the addition of Mintah means another tall, quick, technically gifted forward will be an option for Greatwich when he fills up the team sheet.
Franksson is a Filipino-Swede who was practically the only player giving Laos FC a pulse last year going forward. He is lethal in front of goal and is a massive signing for the squad. There is another plus for Pinoy football fans: Franksson is in the pool for the U22 national team for the SEA Games in August.
Kaya were a disappointing 5th in last year's UFL table. They will look to turn that around in this maiden PFL season.
FC Meralco Manila
Home field: Rizal Memorial Stadium
The Younghusband brothers have a new-look supporting cast as they approach the start of the season.
Pacey winger Jim Ashley Flores is a big new signing for the new coach, Aris Caslib. Flores played for Stallion last season but now dons the black-and-orange of Meralco. The kid was coached by Caslib in San Beda and has a lot to offer the Sparks.
On defense Milan Nikolic, an imposing Serb, is in the saddle, having left Global after helping them win silverware last year. He will partner longtime CB Joaco Cañas. Another foreign central defense signing is Korean Jong Min Lee.
Ric Padilla and Steve Yambou are the goalies training with the team as of the moment.
Tyler Matas, a very quick 22-year-old Fil-American whose father hails from Siquijor, will be leaving a lot of right backs and right wings in the dust this season.
Watch out for Curt Dizon. The Fil-Brit striker is back after trialing in Europe and looked sharp in a recent 3-1 scrimmage victory over JPV.
Other pick ups include Bedan alumni Neil Dorimon, an internationally-experience centerback, and his teammate in both the 2015 SEAG and San Beda, and Connor Tacagni, who is a striker. The team also welcome James Hall, a 27-year old Fil-Englishman who was developed in the Everton youth system.
But Caslib could very well be the team's best new addition. Both Phil and James rate the two-time former Azkals coach highly. After all he has been developing them since the 2005 SEA Games. The Pangasinan-born mentor is one of the most experienced and respected coaches in the land, responsible for much of the coaching instruction the PFF does, alongside Marlon Maro. If Caslib could bring a title to Rizal Memorial, his already glittering coaching CV will only be burnished further.
Home field: Biñan Football Stadium
Stallion can be proud of three innovations leading up to the campaign. One is the successful hosting of their preseason tournament that some of the PFL teams participated in a couple of months ago. That gave teams and players badly needed matches to get into form. Another is their Youtube channel that aired many of those matches on line and also has highlights of the games. Incidentally Stallion won that tournament, beating Meralco in the final.
A third is the Stallion FC mobile app, which will be available on Android and iPhone very soon, according to the team. An app is a great way to give fans info about upcoming games and other team matters. Hopefully both the league and other teams adopt something similar.
But coach Ernie Nierras has not neglected the product on the pitch. The former league and cup champs have made some good signings, none better than the acquisition of Jhanjhan Melliza's signature.
The FEU Tamaraw alum from La Paz, Iloilo was a volume scorer in the UAAP who also knew where the goal frame was when he played for Green Archers United. The stocky but relatively quick left-footer is a natural goal scorer whose favored foot is a howitzer. He should be good for at least half a dozen goals this season if he gets enough playing time.
Stallion likes homegrown players, and they have some super ones. Captain Balot Doctora returns for yet another season leading the forward line, while Azkal Fitch Arboleda will sit deeper in the formation. The defense features the powerful and energetic Arnel Casil, entering his second year in the club after graduating from NU. Another former Bulldog, Darwin Regala, is also in the mix. He has one of the best first touches among young Filipino players along with teammate Nate Alquiros.
New additions include Julian Miranda, a Cebuano U19NT player, and two former Green Archers United defenders who, after a short stopover in Global, are now in Laguna. Ronnie Aguisanda has international experience and Dodong Villareal is known for his work rate.
Nicholas Ferrer, another promising FEU graduate who has played for Forza and Jeepney, has also been brought in alongside DLSU vets Jose Montelibano and Nace Gonzales.
It's ironic that Stallion had a player from Laguna last season, winger Jim Ashley Flores from Los Baños. But once the team actually moved to Laguna, he left for Meralco.
A bunch of new Japanese players form the core of the foreign contingent, while in goal is Ivorian Roland Dely Sadia, the ex-Global custodian who is one of the most highly-regarded African goalies to play here.
Competition will be fierce for playoff slots and Stallion will most certainly be in the thick of the action late in the season. – Rappler.com
Disclosure: Bob Guerrero is the media officer for FC Meralco Manila.
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.