MANILA, Philippines - After Loyola Meralco Sparks’ title-winning efforts in the UFL Cup, attentions now turn to the 2014 League, which starts in less than two weeks. United Football League fans can prime themselves up for an exciting shakeup this season, with more matches to enjoy, and new clubs to follow.
After the UFL’s technical committee secured approval for their recommendations regarding the format of the highly anticipated competition, it was decided that the UFL’s First Division will be composed of nine teams, playing in a triple round robin. Also, the Second Division will be expanded to 12 teams, while retaining its double round robin format.
Scheduled to kick off Jan. 11, UFL has a First Division campaign that will run a month longer than last year’s, with rivals having to clash one extra time. The adjustment increases a team’s number of games from 18 to 24, reinforcing the idea that unlike the Cup, the League is a marathon, not a sprint.
The First Division will be without Nomads FC, last season’s eighth placers. The club voluntarily dropped down to the lower division due to its inability to comply with the Foreigner Cap Rule, which states a minimum of six Filipino players be on the pitch at all times. They join the fairytale club of the recent UFL Cup, Philippine Air Force, which was relegated from the First Division last season.
Competition will be incredibly fierce in the nation’s second tier, with Ceres La-Salle FC and Manila Jeepney joining the battle to earn passage into the top flight. Ceres’ first Cup run may have been halted in the quarterfinals, but its victory over Global to defend its PFF Smart National Club Championship title means it is automatic contender for promotion. Despite its credentials, the quest for qualification into the First Division won’t be easy, with several clubs proving their mettle in the recent Cup.
New team Manila Jeepney showed promise when it advanced to the knockout stages in its first ever crack at the competition. Union Internacional Manila put together a very impressive run, but was denied a semifinal berth by Air Force’s late-game heroics. With the intensely competitive nature now of the Second Division, a spot in the First Division has become exponentially more valuable. Team Socceroo will be among the first to reap the benefits, having been promoted after its dominating title run in the Second Division last year.
Champion Stallion will be looking to defend its well-earned title, but it won’t be easy as it faces an ever-improving competition. The likes of Loyola, Pachanga Diliman and Green Archers United have developed dramatically in the last few months, while Global and Kaya remain perennial dangerous threats.
PSG FC, which finished seventh last season, will be looking to recover from failing to compete in the UFL Cup.
Given the division’s quality, Philippine Army, which narrowly avoided relegation last year, could be facing a real fight to stay in the top flight.