United City FC relishes breakthrough AFC Champions League berth

By winning the 2020 Philippine Football League, United City FC will receive an outright berth in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League. 

It is also the first time in Philippine football history that a team will represent the country in the group stage of the AFC Champions League. 

Bienvenido Marañon, the team’s hat-trick hero in their title-clinching win against Stallion Laguna FC, shared that they are absolutely ecstatic with their latest achievement after years of disappointment when the team was still called Ceres-Negros FC.

“I am happy for the goal[s], I am happy for the team. We are very excited [because] from years ago, we couldn’t play, we get [eliminated] every single time. We are lucky to play in the Champions League," he said.

Now that the spot in the AFC Champions League is secured, the 34-year-old Spaniard is hopeful that everything comes back to normal next year and that the team retains its players so that they can “enjoy the Champions League.”

The veteran striker also expressed his delight at the new changes in the club as not only were they able to retain their title, but they also accomplished a target that they have been craving for the past few years.

"I am very, very happy and proud of this team because after we changed the management, we are lucky to have this new management [because it] is also really good and we just have to show out what we can do," said Marañon.

"We showed this years ago with Ceres that we are the best team in [the] Philippines and today, we saw it again."

One of the few changes made for the PFL bubble was the promotion of Frank Muescan as the interim head coach of United City.

While he is thankful for the win, he also shared that this is important to him on a personal level as he was able to guide the players in the absence of Trevor Morgan, the real head coach.

“'Di lang siya nakapasok because of COVID-19 restrictions ba at saka protocols He was not able to join us in the bubble because of Covid restrictions and protocols," he said.

"So for me, big challenge kasi iniwan sa akin with the staff. Ang kagandahan lang I’ve been with them so mas madali lang ang makikipag-gel. Alam mo 'yung makisama sa kanila and they know me na naging part na rin ako ng team nila so ang dali lang when it comes to blending, so when it comes to parang acceptance and respeto, ang bilis lang," he added.

(It was a big challenge for me and the staff because we had to take on the job. What’s nice is that I’ve been with them already which makes the gelling part smooth. Getting accepted and respected by the team was fast.)

As Ceres-Negros FC, the Busmen ruled the PFL thrice in a row, then capped 2019 with a golden double by capturing the league championship as well as the Copa Paulino Alcantara Cup.

But former club owner and Ceres Liner chairman Leo Rey Yanson  decided to sell the team to MMC Sportz Asia, which leads a group of private investors, in order to keep the country's top football club together.

Before the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to the world of sports, Ceres-Negros FC is undefeated in the 2020 AFC Cup and stands on top of Group G with 7 points off 2 wins and 1 draw. – Rappler.com