The Ateneo Men’s Football Team is on top of the UAAP Football standings with a 4-1-0 record that is good for 13 points. While others are surprised, I am not. First of all, they just got better from last year. They lost many matches in the final 10 minutes play meaning they were a tough team to beat.
In the off-season, the team really worked on their movement – on how they go on the attack as a team and how they all track back as a team – and it has paid dividends.
Are they a finished product? Not at all. In their four wins, the score was 1-nil. Their attack is very fluid and a joy to watch. The finishing, on the other hand, has to be better. Save for the surprise 1-0 win over Far Eastern University (FEU), all their goals have come in the second half. It’s always best to score early and first.
When you look at the team, it’s composed mainly of sophomores and freshmen. The only veterans they have are Enzo Bonoan, Migs Tuazon, Jacobo Lorenzo, and Yu Murayama. Lorenzo is in great shape and it's great to see him play again. In high school, he was an exceptional player and I couldn’t wait to see him don the seniors’ squad’s colors. But he disappointed as he seemed unmotivated and not in shape. He then joined Kaya but didn’t get any playing time. I think his return to the Blue Booters should really help him in his football career.
Miko Mabanag is an excellent midfielder and I’d say that since the Clear Dream Match where he won Best Midfielder has done much for his confidence.
At goal, the Blue Booters alternate with vet Yu Murayama and Nick O’Donnell. Nick was the back-up keeper to Ref Cuaresma for the Loyola Meralco Sparks in 2011 UFL Cup. I’d say he’ll be the top keeper in the UAAP when La Salle’s Patrick Deyto moves on. But both Yu and Nic have not conceded a goal all season! Amazing. And they have gone up against FEU and La Salle.
I love how the team is mostly composed of homegrown and Xavier talents. Definitely fun to watch.
The FEU Tamaraws (3-0-1) are the favorites to win it all this year. Their talented high school class has moved up to join those who were freshmen last season. But conspicuously missing are two mainstays in Ronnie Aguisanda and Sean Lee who were removed by the coaching staff for some reason. Aguisanda is still in school but no idea about Lee. Both, however, are on the roster of Green Archers United with FEU striker Jon Melliza.
These guys are fun to watch. More than Ateneo I have to admit. Their passing and possession game is even better than many UFL teams (I wonder if they will beat them). They crushed the University of the Philippines (UP) and La Salle with a pair of 3-0 wins. They should have kept National University (NU) scoreless but a pair of gaffes gave the Red Booters a pair of goals in a 5-2 FEU win.
I find it funny that Amani Aguinaldo (who also plays for Loyola) and plays centerback doesn’t like heading the ball away. That unfortunately led to the University of the Easts’s (UE) first goal.
In that match, UE held firm in the face of pressure for the Tams but a costly, costly gaffe by the goalkeeper changed the entire complexion of the game. An attempt at a high ball to Jon Melliza was a little strong as it got well away from the FEU striker. The ball rolled towards the UE keeper. Instead of catching the ball, he opted to kick it but he missed! Shades of RS Mantos’ howler for Ateneo several seasons ago. The ball rolled past the UE keeper who lost his footing. Melliza swooped in to tap the ball in for the match’s first goal.
Melliza has seven goals in four matches! This guy is really good and has been since his arrival two seasons ago. When he played for the NCR team in the Suzuki U-23 Cup, he was a threat up front for Hans Smit’s charges.
The goal lifted the pressure of FEU and they began to make mincemeat out of UE until those pair of defensive gaffes that had their coaching staff fuming.
The UP Fighting Maroons (2-1-1) are in a rebuilding mode. They still have some top players from their title years in Jinggoy Valmayor (only in his third year of terrorizing opposing keepers), Atan De Guzman, Deo Segunial, Buyboy Fernandez, and Ty Caballes. They have sophomore Mike Simms as well. I’d give this squad a year to get really good again but that doesn’t mean I am penciling them out as a title contender. No. They are still very good. Especially when you have a coaching staff composed of Anto Gonzales and Frank Muescan. Multi-titled dudes!
Looking at the Maroons, Simms has been moved to a holding mid position that was vacated when Ayi Aryee graduated. I haven’t found Simms sparkling in that role as I thought that his speed and pace on the wings last season were so vital to their success.
You should see his strides when he makes his runs. Like a track runner. Simms’ thunderous header against La Salle is a reminder of his talent.
Gadia is a player worth keeping track of. He brings in a lot of energy to the game. Got a gamer here.
Back to the aforementioned match last Sunday, La Salle had the upper hand in terms of possession and chances but in the 68th to the 73rd minute, the Green Booters’ defense – solid all game long – crumbled. A mad five minutes. Matthew Nierras was unable to close down Valmayor (head coach Hans Smit was angry at the sloppy defense) who crossed the ball. Daniel Gadia redirected the ball to Simms and Deyto had no chance.
The goal in many ways was similar to Ateneo’s late goal against La Salle as they blitzed through the right flank where Valentino Calvo scored.
La Salle (2-0-3) has their work cut out for them on defense. They’ll be playing UP in their next fixture although the Fighting Maroons will be without Valmayor who is out because of two yellow cards.
The Green Booters have a pair of workhorses up front in David and Derrico Diamante but the player making it happen for them is Nate Alquiros. They have a good team but the attack isn’t so fluid. Yet.
Greg Yang is good at the back for La Salle but sometimes makes questionable decisions in his free kicks or passing. Should get better at it soon though.
University of Sto. Tomas (UST) is at fifth place in the seven-team standings. Now this is a surprise. But when you are missing nine of your 11 starters from last year then it makes sense. Not everyone graduated. Forward OJ Clarino and John Reginald Caballero graduated but the others are on the shelf for academic reasons or have transferred. Striker Christian De Juan who was rookie of the year three seasons ago but whose game has since regressed for varying reasons went back home to Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo. Ditto with Bryan Parao. Tim Bolo, a revelation on defense last season is now with USLS in Bacolod.
Starting keeper Mon Borigas, midfielder Nic Palacio, defender Noel Francisco, and striker Fidel Kue are out of the lineup until they can pull up their grades.
Head coach Marjo Allado knows that he has been dealt a cruel hand this year (after making the UAAP Finals for three straight seasons) but his team will continue to slug it out. But watching them, it is so obvious that they are missing their starters. That is why Allado is more patient with this squad.
Check out UST booter Patrick O’Niell. This guy is good.
The UE Red Booters (0-1-3) and NU Bulldogs (0-1-3) bring up the rear with only goal difference separating them. UE is much better than its record but the loss of Fitch Arboleda due to injury is huge. They have a good team but are missing the kind of striker they had when Mark Madrona was finding the back of the net for them. Patience is the key here and not beating up their players for their mistakes.
NU. At the bottom for now. But next year, expect them to compete. You have seen what they have done with all their other varsity squads. There is no reason why they will not be good in a year’s time.
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