The twin titles cement Anto Gonzales' status as the finest young coach in the land. On Thursday, May 5, Gonzales, the 35-year old mentor of UP's men's and women's teams, led both sides to championship game wins. His ladies gave DLSU's Lady Archers their first loss of the season via a 2-1 scoreline while his men dominated Ateneo 4-1.
The victory in the men's division completes a 2015-2016 treble for UP. They won the Ang Liga Cup, Unigames, and now this competition. In the only other collegiate-level tournament, the Ang Liga League, they finished second to FEU.
(Note: assistant coach Popoy Clarino led UP in the Unigames, held in Bacolod, in the absence of Gonzales, who stayed in Manila to tend to his cancer-stricken player Rogie Maglinas, who died months later.)
Gonzales is renowned for his meticulousness. NU coach Lelem Laranas took the “B” license coaching course with him and marveled at his attention to detail. The former Azkal and UP star is also known for his focus on nutrition. Gonzales is a fan of chia seeds, cucumber shakes, quinoa, and other esoteric hipster grub.
But what sets him apart from many coaches is this: he knows when he's messed up.
In the aftermath of last season's bitter 1-0 semifinal loss to FEU, one Maroon told me that Gonzales candidly admitted to the tactical errors that led to the defeat. Midway through this season, Gonzales again realized that something was amiss, as his team struggled in the first round.
“We wanted more scoring opportunities, so we worked on our pressing. But I realized that we overlooked our finishing. That the players needed to develop muscle memory to score goals,” said the coach after the game.
Photo by Bob Guerrero/Rappler
Gonzales ordered more finishing drills in training. The results were slow to take root, but finally blossomed in the playoffs. A team that once labored to score had transformed into an offensive buzz saw in the Final Four, with 7 goals against UST and Ateneo.
You would think that Coach Anto is a natural choice to mentor youth national teams. But there is a problem. Gonzales has yet to get his AFC “A” License badge, usually a prerequisite to coach a national team. The possible explanation: he's been too busy winning titles to take the coaching courses. There was talk of one this year, but apparently it isn't happening.
But license or no license, Gonzales has further burnished an already glittering CV. He now has 4 UAAP men's titles since 2009, and in 2013 and 2014 he was a runner-up with UP. Anto is the Gregg Popovich to UP's San Antonio Spurs.
The UP Ladies gutted out their first-ever football crown. “Everyone got so pissed in the locker room at the half, seeing the smiles on the faces of the DLSU players,” recounted UP's Cristina De Los Reyes.
The Lady Archers had dominated proceedings in the early going but were let down by fine goalkeeping from AJ Javier and some rather ordinary finishing. But in the second half De Los Reyes and her mates won a goal off a penalty, which was canceled out by a DLSU score from the spot, then went ahead for good on BG Sta. Clara's glorious glancing header.
UP's Santa Clara puts her side up 2-1 against DLSU with a '66 goal in the UAAP women's football final pic.twitter.com/4Dh6gUBC4J — Rappler Sports (@RapplerSports) May 5, 2016
It's UP's first-ever ladies crown after two decades of trying, and it's a hard-won one. A key cog in the UP battery, Kali Huff, was sidelined with a knee injury a few weeks ago. She could be seen crying tears of joy after the game, hobbling on a grotesque knee brace and crutches.
But spare a thought to coach Hans Smit. Like Gonzales, he is in charge of both men’s and women's team. Last year he took an undefeated men's side to the UAAP final only to lose 3-2 to FEU. This year same story on the distaff side. The Lady Archers had 6 wins and two draws on their record, but decided to lose for the very first time when it mattered most.
The penalty awarded to UP was a wee bit soft. Either the foul happened outside the box or the UP player lost her balance but not because of the contact, which is Smit's assertion. One observer also said the ball was behind her when there was contact, so there was no way to score. At any rate, highlights will be available soon on ABS-CBN Sports and Action's YouTube site soon for you to make the call for yourself.
The cookie really hasn't crumbled well for Smit and his girls. But a team that swept the individual awards this season will likely by motivated to come back next year.
Meanwhile, is a league phase followed by single knockout play really a fair format? In my opinion the twice-to-beat advantage should make a comeback in the UAAP. It gives the higher seeded team a big advantage, thus making the regular season more meaningful.
Rogie Maglinas' spirit continues to drive UP. Kintaro Miyagi, UP's rookie striker, scored a hat trick against Ateneo. But it was no surprise to the kid from Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu.
Miyagi told me afterwards that he dreamt of scoring in the UAAP final the other night, and that Maglinas, the former player who succumbed to complications from cancer just before the season began, featured in the dream.
“Feeling ko talaga mag s-score ako ngayon,” admitted Miyagi. “Hindi ako kinakabahan. Kalmado ako. Di ko lang inakala na tatlo ang ibibigay sa akin.”
(I really felt that I was going to score. I wasn't nervous, just calm. But I didn't think I would be given 3.)
File photo by Josh Albelda/ Rappler
The passing of Maglinas and its subsequent unifying effect only helped bond the men's and women's teams more.
“We are more of a community than ever before, especially since Rogie brought us together,” explained De Los Reyes.
But no one shed more poignant tears of joy than the young man bawling into a shirt, perhaps one of Rogie's old UP kits, after the game, with Gonzales' arm around him. It was none other than Dennis Maglinas, Rogie's brother, who plays for the Lyceum Philippines University football squad that is coached by Popoy Clarino. A very special bunch of young men and women had given his brother the most brilliant of tributes, and the emotion was too much for him to bear.
Ateneo can hold their head up high. Jay-Pee Merida's team looked done and dusted after a lousy first round. But they circled the wagons, remembered how to play defense, and relied on Jarvey Gayoso's heroics to reach the final. Gayoso was checked in the final four, thanks in part to a sprained ankle that kept him below 100%.
Mikko Mabanag exited in style, with a free kick goal, and it appears veteran keeper JP Oracion is also departing. But Mashu Yoshioka, Gayoso, and their twin towers on defense, Xavier Alcuaz and Jayra Rocha, will remain, and the Blue Eagles appear to be very competitive going forward. They almost succeeded in breaching the UP high line with through balls, but UP's outstanding midfield stole their lunch money and left them with scraps of possession for much of the game.
A word on the individual awards. Daniel Gadia won a very well-deserved MVP plum. He had a hand in 4 goals in the last two games and scored a sensational solo goal on Thursday. He will only get better training with Loyola.
Gayoso and Paolo Salenga split the Best Striker Award with 11 scores apiece. But Gayoso, a rookie, did not get the Rookie of the Year award. That went to Jed Diamante of DLSU.
I spoke to Ateneo women's coach Bob Manlulo before the games on Thursday. He explained that Gayoso had a suspension via a red card, (in his case two yellows in one match, I was told), thus rendering him ineligible for the ROY award. But in the peculiar logic of the UAAP board, he was still eligible for the Best Striker/Golden Boot prize.
The rules need tweaking. I sense that that board is employing basketball standards to football. In hoops, a player usually only gets suspended or expelled if he is really being a bad boy. In football, suspensions happen much more often. In fact, in many situations, it is THE CORRECT MOVE tactically to make a yellow card offense. This is called a professional foul, or duty foul. Two duty fouls can get you suspended and leave you out of the running for an individual prize.
My solution: only disqualify players from individual awards if they get STRAIGHT red cards due to violent conduct or abusive behavior. For me that makes a lot more sense.
But the biggest awards were for the championships of Season 78 football. They are welcome additions to the UP trophy cabinets, and a festive mood surely must be gripping the west side of Katipunan Avenue. De Los Reyes' prescient words after her team's win, hours before the men won, say it best.
“We got ours. In two hours the boys will get theirs and we'll all get drunk and celebrate.” – Rappler.com
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.