My thoughts on Stallions 3, Army 0, and Kaya 2, Pasargad 1.
Stallions knocked the stuffing out of Army early on. Lee Joo Young scored a terrific volley goal in the very first minute of play. Minutes later Yoon Byeong Jun made it 2-0. Balot Doctora all but sealed the points in the 19th minute with a terrific solo effort. He was brought down in the box, got up and poked the ball in. Right after the goal the Army defender was shown a yellow, which means the ref was playing advantage and Stallions would have had a penalty had Doctora not scored. Just like the Azkals-Guam game, Stallions couldn't pad the lead even though they were the better club. Army were largely unable to match the Stallion's speed.
Ansing Gustilo is back. The former National Team player has been out of the mix for a while with Stallions. But when Park Bo Bae got hurt, he trotted in. Gustilo is most famous for that cheeky halfline blast against Global in the 2011 UFL Cup that caught Paolo Pascual off his line for a goal. Last Thursday he was confident on the ball and made good passes. In the second half he rocked the crossbar with a long-range strike. He is Stallion's secret weapon, deserving of more minutes. Incidentally, Park Bo Bae was carried off the field by his teammates. For some reason, a stretcher was not made available to him. Funny because there was a stretcher for subsequent injuries.
Joeffrey Lobaton showed glimpses of brilliance. The 38-year old more often coaches Army instead of playing for it. But with Jerad Champ Baron out with a shoulder injury he was called to the starting lineup. He put in a solid 90 minutes against Stallions in attacking midfield. The quickness might not be there but the Football IQ and passing touch was.
Yok Becite could still develop as a dangerous weapon for Army. He is still pretty young, has decent speed, and can really hoof the ball. He very nearly scored late in the game, but his strike slammed into the crossbar. Army needs Becite, Baron and Meliton Pelayo keep up the good work if they are to thrive in the top flight next year. They also need a massive influx of young players.
Rodrigo Betita is the John Stockton of the UFL. Army's right back owns the shortest, tightest pants in the league. Every game they seem to creep higher and higher up those thighs. I would think his wife approves.
Kaya will take the 2-1 win over Pasargad, even though it wasn't perfect. Kaya's defense withstood a barrage from a Pasargad team that has been transformed since the transfer window. Nate Burkey missed three gilt-edged chances. Kaya might also have been lucky with the calls. In the 18th minute Jay Torres of Pasargad was adjudged to have fouled Jonah Romero in the box. Pasargad complained bitterly but Aly Borromeo was true from the spot to make it 1-0. Defender Adrian Semblat doubled the lead later in the half. In the second half Mohammad Ohadi was felled in the Kaya penalty box but referee Michael Barajas decided not to blow his whistle.
Kaya is now atop the league with 39 points. But it only has one match left, versus Stallion on Tuesday. Global and Meralco have two to play each. Kaya's destiny is not in their hands. The title is Global's to lose. A win versus the Airmen on Saturday plus a win versus Meralco on Tuesday will give them the crown.
Interesting stat for Kaya: They have only 29 goals this league season, as opposed to 44 by Global and 61 by the Sparks. And yet they could still win the title.
Mohammad Ohadi burnished his reputation as one of the league's best. The Iranian struck again, this time a second half rocket of a left-footer that Kaya keeper Saba Sadeghi was never going to stop. He isn't the quickest of forwards but he is a wizard with the ball at his feet. Good thing Pasargad have Ohadi on a two-year deal. If not there would be plenty of clubs after his signature.
Pasargad will be a title contender next year. Aside from Ohadi, Pasargad also features Shayan Jafaridastjerdi, a midfielder with speed to burn. I don't know what is harder, defending him or pronouncing his name. Emil Muncada, the Filipino-Spaniard who plays in the Spanish fourth tier, has been a useful addition on the left wing. Supposedly he made the Pasargad roster by contacting the team on Facebook and asking for a tryout. This team is ready to challenge for a trophy next year.
Pasargad's reserve keeper was up to the challenge. Pasargad already has a solid goalie in Mohammad Golkah, but they have a terrific reserve too. Golkah was subbed at the half after suffering a nasty knock on the face by a team mate. In came Joshua Cruz. Cruz was pressured from the get-go, but made the right plays. His judgment in coming out to stifle attacks was spot-on. In the last seconds of the match Kaya's Prince Mark Boley lasered a ball at Cruz but he anticipated it well and parried clear. 45 minutes of action, 0 goals conceded. Cruz looks like he could start in a Division 2 club tomorrow. It's a pity that Golkah keeps us from seeing more of this promising netminder.
Lexton Moy has a game that young players should emulate. I counted four or five simple one-touch moves from the Azkal in this game. These simple but effective plays confuse defenders and can lead to chances. There simply aren't enough Pinoy players who have this selfless, pass-first attitude.
Moy is also wonderful off the pitch. I watched the game with Fair Play For All Foundation's Roy Moore. FPFAF is a football team based in Payatas. He told me that not only did Moy and Burkey help coach the kids there, they also physically helped renovate the FPFAF house in Payatas. Pretty cool.
Neil Etheridge has a big heart. The Azkals keeper showed up for the Kaya game. As soon as he arrived at the stadium, his first move was to hand his understudy Ed Sacapano four pairs of brand-new Nike goalie gloves. "Nike gave me a big box of gloves of different styles. I chose one style and I decided to give some of the others to Ed, since you can't easily find pro gloves here." Classy fellow, Neil is.
Best cheer of the day: The Ultras Kaya, calling Eric Dagroh "the dagger." Nice nickname, although the actual lyrics of the cheer escape me at the moment.