Ceres vs Selangor AFC Cup post-game: Good match, better event

FT: Ceres- La Salle 2, Selangor FA 2

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines - Stephan Schrock proved his worth. 

Both goals involved the mercurial midfielder. His left-footed strike in the first half gave Ceres the lead, then with 3 minutes to go he chased down a ball down the left flank and unspooled a  cross just before the ball trickled over the byline. Adrian Gallardo was in the box to head home. 

Schrock has so many arrows in his quiver. He can finish with both feet, is fantastic on the ball, is very quick, and works hard. An indifferent performance for the Azkals against Yemen might have caused some to doubt his ability. But on Tuesday he was as good as advertised in a very, very big game.

Ceres are only paying for 30% of his salary, with his German team picking up the tab for the rest. Whatever that amount is, it was all worth it on Tuesday. 

Schrocky's future with Ceres will be in doubt after August, when his loan deal with Greuther Furth ends. If he continues to play like this, don't be surprised if other teams in Asia express some interest in him.

 

Louie Casas' shocking goalkeeper error was very uncharacteristic of him

 

Juani Guirado, the Azkals center back and also a Ceres defender, (he was injured on Tuesday), once told me he thought Casas was the best goalkeeper in the UFL.

"You should see the saves he makes in training," said Guirado, with eyes expanding to the size of saucers. 

Unfortunately a goalie is judged by his work in big games, not on the training ground. On Tuesday, with Ceres leading 1-0, the Cebuano ex-Azkal gathered a back pass from Victorino Son. Selangor forward Mauro Olivi rushed in to harry him. Casas hesitated, thought of dribbling around the Argentinian, and instead launched a belated clearance. It was too late. Olivi was there to charge it down and send it goalward. 

I remember Casas wearing the Azkals goalkeeper jersey with distinction in the 2007 AFF championship. He even saved a penalty that year if I'm not mistaken. Many have thought he deserves another call-up. But the chances of that all but vaporized with that concession. Azkals coach Thomas Dooley was in the stands. 

Casas is known for his cat-quick reflexes and composure under pressure. That howler, to seasoned UFL watchers, is simply not representative of his body of work. He will have 5 more AFC Cup games to prove his value. 

 

Ceres proved they belonged on this level

 

Granted, they did not get the win, but Ceres looked like the brighter team for much of the contest. Selangor looked timid in spells but grabbed a point thanks to the Casas blunder and  Hafiz Kamal's magic free kick.

They bossed the possession in the first half and Schrock was, for me, the best player on the park for either side. 

I feared that Ceres would be too lightly raced, to borrow horse-racing parlance, having played games against lightweights Nomads and Pasargad in the lead up to this game. But the side performed well and arguably deserved more than the point. 

 

Bacolod should take a bow with how they hosted this game

 

There was barely a seat to be had in both the grandstand and the bleachers. The only empty spot was on the far north end near the traveling Selangor support. 

The announced attendance was 8000, which may be about the size of recent biggest home crowd for an Azkals game, a Suzuki Cup semifinal in Rizal Memorial. 

This was almost certainly the biggest crowd in Panaad since the seminal win against Mongolia in 2011. However I believe the AFC Challenge Cup games in 2014 were also well-attended.

There were huge swathes of the crowd in the bleachers in yellow, including a line of dudes in yellow body paint, with "Ceres La Salle" spelled out on their bellies in blue paint. There was no shortage of flags, drums, and banners. 

The organizers got a lot of things right for this game. The promotion of the match was excellent. As soon as we got out of the airport in Silay we were greeted by a giant tarp advertising the Ceres home games. There were posters all over the city. I got into a cab on Monday night and the radio was tuned into a talk show. The hosts were plugging the game for the next evening. 

I went for a jog on Monday afternoon. I was wearing a Payatas Football Club shirt given to me by Roy Moore. I got accosted by a young kid in a school uniform. He said he played football and would be at the game the next day. 

The organizer's best move was to make the match tickets free. The Bacolodnons dutifully snapped up the tickets and packed the stadium. This is in stark contrast to the prohibitively expensive ticketing prices for Azkals games in Rizal Memorial and the PSS of late, which caused many Pinoy football fans to stay away. Ceres wanted a sell out and didn't mind not earning to get it. The important thing for them was to stoke the excitement for the team and the competition. 

The stadium itself was in good shape. Plenty of fresh paint was evident everywhere, and even the aircon units looked new. The video footage of the lockers was nice. The dressing rooms looked almost posh. 

There were other nice touches, like a roll-out tunnel for the players to go from the lockers to the field, and new seating and a shed for the players. The team seats were comfy, well-cushioned, vinyl upholstered jobs that looked to have come from the Ceres bus factory. (Yes, Ceres Liner makes their own buses.)

The carabao grass field was lush and very green. It wasn't quite as smooth as the artificial turf pitches in Manila, though.

In general I got the impression that the local government, the Negros Occidental Football Association, (run by Ricky Yanson, brother of Ceres boss Leo Rey), and ordinary Negrenses all banded together to make the game a success. If we could see this cooperation and commitment for a club in other cities then maybe, just maybe, the national league could be a success. But that's a big if. It would be great if we could clone the Yanson brothers and have 10 of them all over the country. 

 

Kaya were decent in their AFC Cup debut as well

 

Kaya lost to Kitchee 1-0 on the same evening in Hong Kong. I was unable to see the game because there was only a one-hour difference in kickoff times. But that is a very decent scoreline on the road against a very established club. 

So even though we didn't get a win on match day one, Philippine club football has plenty to look forward to for this competition. – Rappler.com

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.