UAAP Season 81 football: Brace for a wide-open field

Bob Guerrero

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UAAP Season 81 football: Brace for a wide-open field
Expect plenty of excitement when the UAAP men's football competition kicks off this Sunday




February 17, FEU Diliman
9 am – NU vs Adamson
1 pm – La Salle vs UST
3 pm – FEU vs UE

February 21, Moro Lorenzo Field
9 am – Adamson vs UST
1 pm – UE vs Ateneo


UAAP Season 81 football preview, Part 1 


MANILA, Philippines – Season 81 of the UAAP men’s football competition kicks off this Sunday, February 17, and University of the Philippines coach Anto Gonzales’ side will need to hold back a stacked lineup of teams looking to prevent a Maroon three-peat.

This year, ABS-CBN Sports will either broadcast or stream every single men’s match. The Thursday afternoon games starting February 21 will go on S+A starting at 1 pm, while the 9 am matches on Thursday will be streamed.

Sunday morning games will be streamed while the afternoon matches will be both streamed and aired on Liga channel, making this season’s games as the most covered in league history. 

Let’s take a look at Adamson, Ateneo, DLSU and UE.

Adamson University 

The Falcons have a new coach at the helm, former Letran Calamba mentor Arvin Soliman.

Soliman led Adamson to a surprising third-place finish in the Weekend Futbol League Elite competition last year, just a point behind second-place Ateneo. WFLE was one of two preseason tilts the Falcons entered, the other being Ang Liga. Adamson won 3 matches and drew once in WFLE.

The list of returning veterans includes the Jumo twins – Bless Brian I and Bless Brian II – and goalie Carl Viray. Jusuel Pilarca is a gifted striker from Lopez, Quezon who could be a volume scorer if he gets more chances. 

But all eyes are on rookie Rey Poncardas. He is a native of Gingoog, Misamis Oriental, where the Jumos come from. Poncardas is a creative force in midfield who sparkled in WFLE.

Adamson is without the graduating James Ramos on defense. The rest of the back four will need to step up to insulate Viray, easily the busiest goalie in the league in the last 4 years.

Striker Karlheinz Ortinez is recovering from a dislocated shoulder. Soliman needs him to add punch to the offense sooner than later. 

Adamson lost all 14 of their assignments last season. But there is real hope in San Marcelino that this will be a different kind of Falcons team in 2019.


Ateneo de Manila University

Coach Jaypee Merida is bringing a veteran squad to the fray this year. Julian Roxas, Jarvey Gayoso, Nino Herrera, Jayrah Rocha, Rupert Baña, and AJ Arcilla will all suit up and gun for the title. This Blue Eagles team is hungry after a disappointing semis exit last season.

Ateneo played in both the WFL Elite and Ang Liga, finishing 2nd place behind Green Archers United in the former.

Departing the side is Cebuano midfield ace Enzo Ceniza, who has followed his footballing dream to Denmark, where he hopes to develop in a European setting. 

Merida has new toys at his disposal. Jabez Setters is a Fil-Brit, who surprisingly, has a futsal background. He should provide quality in the middle of the park. Other pickups are defender Jacob Liao from DLSZ, Luca Alleje a forward out of HEDCEN, Szymon Mercado recruited from De La Salle Canlubang and Jojo Fuentes, a Fil-Am winger. 

But the focal point will be Gayoso. The Azkal missed plenty of school playing for the national team, and he isn’t part of the U22 squad going to Cambodia. His focus will be Ateneo and winning a second UAAP title for the Blue and White.


De La Salle University 

Hans Smit’s Archers have a core of veterans in Yoshiharu Koizumi, Paeng Siggaoat, Nate Alcantara and Jed Diamante. 

But added to the mix are some impressive rookies, like Shanden Vergara, brother of UE’s Mason, who starred for DLSZ, Jovan Marfiga, a very gifted mid from Masbate, and Gab Villacin, a rookie goalie from Cebu.

De La Salle has also picked up talent from abroad. Mohammad Almohjili is a Fil-Saudi rookie, and Mikio Umilin comes from Japan. Umilin, a very creative and technically skilled player, is suffering from a broken nose, so it’s not clear if he can play right away. 

These rookies, numbering 14, according to Smit, will need to pick up the slack from an attacking corps decimated by the loss of Mathew Custodio and Chris Lawless, who are playing futsal for their new school, Enderun. 

The Archers rarely join Ang Liga, the biggest collegiate preseason tournament. But they did last year and won the whole shebang, topping sister team College of Saint Benilde in the final. Could that be a harbinger of things to come? Taft has suffered a title drought that is two-decades long. Perhaps this crew could finally end it. 


University of the East 

The Red Warriors were the only UAAP team not to participate in any major preseason tournament. But coach Fitch Florence Peter Arboleda is not fazed. 

“I think we are mature enough since we will have 8 to 10 senior players starting,” says the coach from Romblon. 

Among that cadre of grizzled campaigners are sharpshooter Mar Diano, dynamic defender Josh Polinag, creative mid Mason Vergara, and talented goalie Frank Rieza. 

Krysler Opeña missed all of last season with knee trouble. The Batangueño’s return will be a big boost to the midfield. 

Fitch Hazh Fylys Arboleda, out of UST’s high school team and a brother of the coach, is a rookie standout who will likely see action. The same can’t be said for his kuya Fitch Hanz Cosmos Arboleda, at least initially. A bad hammy will keep him on the sidelines for the first few matches. 

The fourth Fitch, Fitch Johnson Daviz Arboleda of Stallion Laguna, will likely reprise his role as an assistant coach.

Another Romblon recruit, Champ Marin, is one to watch for the future.

UE was a blown call away from crashing the UAAP Final Four party a year ago. If they can overcome their lack of preseason play, they could go even higher this season.


In Part 2 we will take a look at FEU, NU, UP, and UST as well as the women’s competition. –


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