MANILA, Philippines – Expect fireworks at Emperador Stadium in McKinley Hill when the United Football League makes its return on January 11, as changes are introduced in an aim to raise the level of competition in the premiere football league of the country.
Entering its fifth league competition, the UFL has announced through its website on Saturday, January 4 that local football fans will be treated to more games as Division I teams are set to face each other this season thrice, increasing each team’s total number of games from 18 last year to 24.
“UFL fans can look forward to a First Division campaign that will run a month longer that last year’s,” the league stated through its official website. “The adjustment… reinforces the idea that unlike the Cup, the League is a marathon, not a sprint.”
The country’s top division will be without Nomads FC this time however,as the expatriate-laden squad decided to drop to the second division after failing to meet the league’s foreign cap rule, which indicates that there should be a minimum of 6 Filipino players on the pitch at all times.
Reigning league champion Stallion FC – shortly after losing its Cup title to the Loyola Meralco Sparks – will be trying to assert their league dominance in the midst of big-name signings happening all over the league. Without Rufo Sanchez, Joaco Canas, Lee Joo Young, Bo Bae Park, Lee Won Hyung, Hector Zaghi, Diego Barrera and Gui Hasegawa – who all left Stallion in the offseason – coach Ernie Nierras will have to move his chess pieces carefully if he is to keep his club on top of the UFL.
Team Socceroo, meanwhile, makes its Division I debut after steamrolling the competition in the second division in 2013, winning all of their 16 games with Jeong Woo Lee taking home the Golden Ball and Golden Boot plums while Seung Seok Soo was awarded as the Best Goalkeeper.
More new faces join Division II
Aside from Nomads, UFL’s second division will be ushering in new names as Negros Occidental powerhouse Ceres FC and the Manila government-bankrolled Manila Jeepney join the fray in a bid to make it to the top flight of the league come next season.
Ceres FC has recently won the 2013-2014 PFF National Men’s Club Championship where they beat Global FC in the finals, 3-1 on aggregate. The Joshua Beloya and Jayson Panhay-bannered squad won all of their 7 matches, scoring 45 goals and conceding just 2. They also reached the knockout stages of the 2013 UFL Cup, losing to Green Archers United, 1-2, in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile,Manila Jeepney is a newly-established club which made its UFL debut as a guest team in the last Cup competition, reaching the Round of 16 before falling to GAU. Iranian Masood Shadideh, former University of the Philippines forward Ayii Nii Aryee, and former Azkals players Yannick Tuason and Mark Villon lead the cast for the youngest squad in the league.
Philippine Air Force, after placing last in the Division I in 2013, is also set to see action in the second division, which the UFL decided to keep in a double round-robin format for the upcoming season.
(Editor's Note: We initially wrote Philippine Army instead of Philippine Airforce. We regret the error.)