It is safe to say that the De La Salle University Men’s Football Team has done the school, its supporters and themselves proud at the end of the UAAP Season 81 Men’s Football Tournament first round.
With a team composed of 13 rookies and nine holdovers from the previous campaign, the Green and White managed to accrue four wins and three losses, which amounted to 12 points and the lofty position of 2nd place in the standings.
Obviously, though, the team does not plan to settle on its fantastic start to the season. There will be seven games to go before two potential matches in the postseason and La Salle shall need every bit of momentum going into the next phase.
Here are some talking points from the past seven fixtures.
Different scorers arise
Whisper it but gone are the days from the previous seasons where goalscoring duties mainly feel on one man’s shoulders.
If the team relied too much on former striker Gelo Diamante in past campaigns, then the same couldn’t be said this time around. At the end of the first round, there were six different scorers for the Green and White, namely Alfonso Montelibano (three goals), Shanden Vergara (two goals) Mateo Alegre, John Rhey Lagura, Mikio Umilin and Mohammad Adil Almohjili (one goal each).
None of these goals came from a penalty kick and most of them arrived through ingenuity in open play. All these factors are pleasing to the eye because opposing teams now need to watch out for different threats to their backline.
Good defense grinds out victories
If the offense gained more bite, then the defense is slowly getting its groove.
The graduations of defenders Nicko Villacin and Noel Brago and goalkeeper Paeng de Guzman were obviously going to be a big blow to La Salle’s defense but others stepped up to the plate.
Gab Villacin, Nicko’s brother, has developed into a dependable goalkeeper after his opening day debacle against University of Santo Tomas. The younger Villacin pulled off fine saves in the next six games, most notably against the Ateneo Blue Eagles to preserve the team’s lead.
For the players in front of Gab Villacin, rookie Jovan Marfiga, fifth-year player Yoshi Koizumi, third-year full-back Nate Alcantara have been constants in the backline while Gyan de Vera and neophyte Gerald Abao have alternated the right-back position.
All players have proven their worth in the past seven games despite some jitters and initial unfamiliarity. But the whole team deserves credit also as it managed to preserve its one-goal leads against the likes of University of the Philippines and Ateneo.
As the saying goes, offense wins games but good defense wins championships. Let’s hope this is a habit that doesn’t leave the team anytime soon.
Multiple players stepping up
Every team is as strong as its last member and the coaching staff has proven that it’s not afraid to make changes to personnel, not only in terms of who plays but also the players’ positions.
Perhaps the two revelations in this sense are Koizumi and Montelibano. The Filipino-Japanese player started out as a midfielder and even a substitute goalkeeper back in Season 77 but he has now become one of the first names on the startling 11 where he partners Marfiga at the heart of the defense. If Marfiga is the brawn of the duo, then the Ateneo de Davao alumnus is the finesse player in their partnership.
When it comes to Montelibano, his progression as a striker from his previous positions in defense and defensive midfield is one of the best stories you will witness from the Green & White this year. The De La Salle Zobel alumnus has provided three goals so far, two of which came recently against Ateneo. His goalscoring prowess may have arrived late, but it’s better late than never.
The bench has contributed to the four wins in the first round. Rookies Almohjili, Xavi Zubiri and, lately, sophomore Manu Cruel are some of the players who have regularly come off the bench to provide fresh legs to the team. In fact most if not all field players have been given playing time on the pitch.
Even playing field
On a neutral perspective, this first round of UAAP Men’s Football action was really fun to watch.
Programs such as University of the East and Adamson University clinched big wins over perennial Final Four contenders Ateneo, La Salle and UP. Seeing those two schools do well is a sign that the UAAP really is competitive as both were arguably automatic victories for the rest of the league
All teams are also close to each other in terms of points in the league table. Despite being at 12 points, La Salle can easily be caught by teams outside the top four as Adamson, UP and UE all have 7 points each with the second round yet to come. Another factor is that everyone plays at the FEU-Diliman turf, which makes any possible excuse about the pitch immaterial.
All this shows is that anybody can beat anybody on their day and that La Salle must be on top of its game in every match as it cannot take any team for granted.
UST litmus test
In a sense it is appropriate that La Salle starts its second run against the team that it lost to in opening day – UST.
UST have brilliant forwards Steven Anotado and Conrado Dimacali III under its wings and the duo will surely be a threat to the Green & White.
A win will be imperative not only to maintain momentum but to also exorcise some demons and prove how far this team has come after that first day defeat.
That game will be played on March 24, 2019, 3:00 PM in FEU-Diliman.