My thoughts on Kaya 1, Stallion 0, and Global 1, Meralco 1.
Global finish a rollercoaster season in style. Dan Palami has assembled a team bristling with gifted Azkals. On Tuesday night his stars delivered, producing a draw against Meralco that gave them the league title that eluded them last year. Global finished with 42 points, the same as Kaya, but since they have a superior goal difference, they lift the trophy. The team weathered several storms this year, like a shocking early-season loss to Army, the abrupt resignation of coach Graeme MacKinnon, and a broken arm suffered by striker Izo Elhabbib. There were plenty of contributions from many, a true mark of a champion club.
Carli de Murga showed his versatility, helping out on offense, defense, and even at times at goalkeeper. Angel Guirado cemented his reputation as one of the UFL's finest strikers. Elhabbib had another superb season. Yu Hoshide was influential in the first half of the Meralco game with some threatening deliveries. David Basa, for the second straight game, assisted on a goal. The big defender from UST is a natural left-footer and with his fine play could perhaps merit another Azkals call-up. Goalie Jerome Etoundi, filling in for Paolo Pascual who is on U22 duty, was mostly mistake-free.
Global should contend for more trophies next year, especially if the likes of Marwin Angeles and Jeffrey Christiaens can play more and if Rob Gier can do better than just the odd cameo. Denis Wolf will also strengthen the attack. Global is hot now, but their future looks even better.
Kaya needs a fearsome attack to complement a rock-solid defense if they want to be champions. In the UFL Cup, Aly Borromeo, the anchor of their defense and their captain, blew out his knee. Incredibly, the defense didn't skip a beat. Jason Sabio, Adrian Semblat, and Anton Del Rosario frustrated offenses all season long. They allowed 17 goals, tied with Global for best in the league.
But Kaya doesn't have a reliably dangerous striker like Phil Younghusband, Izo Elhabbib, Mohammad Ohadi or Ian Araneta. Kaya disturbed the nets only 30 times this league season, compared to 49 for Global and a whopping 64 for the Sparks. Only four clubs scored fewer. This is the biggest reason why they didn't win the title.
Nate Burkey did find the net against Stallion last Tuesday, a terrific finish off some great work by Joshua Beloya, but he hasn't been a prolific scorer. Eric Dagroh, Prince Mark Boley, and Alu Kigbu need to step up their game to help out in the goals department.
It's back to the drawing board for Meralco. The Sparks are the heartbreak team of the UFL. Last December they fell at the final hurdle, losing to Air Force in the Cup Final. In this year's league they inexplicably stumble in the final three games, taking only two points. Meralco is a fully professional team with excellent corporate backing and two brilliant internationalists in Phil and James Younghusband. Yet last Friday they were incapable of defeating a Nomads club that is composed mostly of expats with day jobs. This late season swoon must hurt.
Perhaps chemistry is an issue. I was told that a team official and the head coach bickered publicly in full view of the crowd during the Wednesday loss to Air Force. Changes will most surely happen in the off-season. Third place will not do for a club with this many resources.
Ref Cuaresma ruined a solid outing with a costly error. The Meralco netminder had a super first half against Global, with a fine reflex save off Angel Guirado and several well-timed forays outside his box. But his error that led to Izo's goal in the 65th minute is one he'd like to forget. He went way out to challenge the Sudanese striker and misjudged badly. Elhabbhib must have sensed Cuaresma was near and headed it goalward. Goalkeepers have to make decisions in a split-second. This time, Cuaresma's judgment let him down. It's obvious that the Dumaguete native would have been better off staying home and letting the defense deal with Izo on this play.
Mark Hartmann is the best free kicker in the land. In the 34th minute of their game versus Global, the youngster lined up a free kick at least 12 yards clear of the D outside the Global penalty area. I remember thinking that it was probably outside his range for a direct strike. I was wrong. Hartmann launched a missile that was only just denied by the crossbar. 12 minutes later, he reeled off another free kick that just curled over the bar. If for this specialty skill alone, Hartmann deserves more Azkals selections.
Pinoy cameramen still have to learn how to frame for football. I watched the games on TV because of a prior commitment. I loved AKTV's graphics and use of the crane. They also had tons of replays from all sorts of angles. Props to direc Dong Capinpuyan and his crew for that. But the framing was just too tight. Oftentimes when a ball is kicked, the cameramen have to jerk the camera quickly to follow the ball. They should try for a more conservative loose frame so that there is less quick panning. This way the viewer can also get more context on the play. One last observation: it would have been great if AKTV had put a camera on the Kaya players during the Global-Meralco match. Kaya needed a Meralco win, and seeing their facial expressions during Meralco's 76th minute equalizer from Jeong Byeong Yeol would have been great TV.
Yu Hoshide gave us a frightening moment. Global's Japanese midfielder fell down in the first half against Meralco after challenging for a 50-50 ball with Phil Younghusband. His head seemed to bang hard on the turf. He got up, then like one of Manny Pacquiao's opponents after a knockdown, crumpled once again to the grass. I really feared that he had suffered a concussion. Fortunately the next time he got up, he seemed okay, and finished the match. Let's hope there are no lingering effects.
Meralco and Global wore uniforms that were too similarly colored. Usually there is a manager's meeting before a game where the uniform colors are straightened out. Each team has at least two kits, sometimes three. If Global wanted to wear its red kit, Meralco should have gone with its white ensemble. If Meralco insisted on orange, Global could have used their all-yellow uniform. But the Sparks went with Orange and Global used red. It was hard for some TV viewers to tell them apart. I can imagine it might have been an issue with players too, especially when scanning for team mates with your peripheral vision.
Kaya coach Kale Alvarez was as casually-dressed as they come. Alvarez could be seen on the sidelines wearing a yellow Kaya roundneck shirt and extra-long black shorts. This is in stark contrast to coach Kim of Loyola, who often comes to games in a suit. Alvarez isn't the most casual I've seen in the UFL, though. Last year I recall seeing Nomads mentor Mick Dennison coaching a game barefooted.
You can follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.