All those months of hard work, blood, sweat and even tears all boil down to one last game for the De La Salle University Men’s Football Team.
Against all expectations and reasoning, La Salle has managed to reach the Finals in the UAAP Season 81 Men’s Football Tournament. It is a golden opportunity for the school to bring home one of the most elusive championships, which the Green & White last won in 1998.
Standing in front of La Salle is its archrival Ateneo de Manila University, which is powered by Jarvey Gayoso, the nephew of Lasallian football legend and coach Alvin Ocampo.
To say that this championship match will be a tense affair is an understatement. La Salle and Ateneo have competed in the finals four times in the event’s history. The Taft-based school emerged victorious in Seasons 59 and 60 while the Blue & White prevailed in 58 and 68. In Season 81, both camps won a game each at the other’s expense.
With that said, everything is irrelevant come May 16, 2019, 4:30 PM, when the two institutions face each other for all the marbles at the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
We need to talk about Jarvey
Without a doubt, the biggest threat to any championship ambitions for La Salle has to be Ateneo’s star striker Jarvey Gayoso. The three-time Best Striker has scored 11 goals so far this season, the most recent one coming in the Blue Eagles’ Final Four clash with the Far Eastern University Tamaraws.
The thing with Gayoso is that he is probably the only player in the league who can create a goalscoring opportunity all on his own. Compare and contrast his performance against FEU and La Salle’s defending against UP’s forwards.
UP had national team players Kyle Magdato, JB Borlongan and Kintaro Miyagi all on the pitch to do damage against La Salle but all of them relied on the system instilled by Fighting Maroons mentor Anto Gonzales. However, they were contained by La Salle’s valiant defending on the day.
On the other hand, Ocampo’s nephew was tightly marked by the Tamaraws throughout the game and his goal literally came out of nowhere. FEU captain Poi Saldivar marked him tightly, only for the Atenean to spin around and shoot from a tight angle.
Another thing with Gayoso is that he has the one capability that scares defenders, raw speed. He was a track and field champion back in high school and his ability to carry the ball and run past backlines opens up space for his teammates.
La Salle’s defence faces a tall task to stop and it must also be wary of the spaces he opens up for his teammates on the day.
Defence wins the championship
If there is one thing that La Salle has demonstrated this season, it’s that it knows how to defend valiantly against the league’s top teams.
Except for University of Santo Tomas, DLSU managed to earn one-goal margin wins over Ateneo, Far Eastern University and University of the Philippines en route to the championship game.
The main centre-backs this season, Jovan Marfiga and Yoshi Koizumi have developed a good partnership considering that they weren’t even defenders to begin with when the enrolled in the school. Both of them cover each other well and Marfiga, who is only a rookie, looks set to become the team’s foundation for years to come.
Perhaps the biggest question mark is the fitness of veteran full-back Nathan Alcantara who was ruled out of the semi-finals due to an injury. However, as the team has demonstrated this season, players will step up and the likes of former Blue Eaglet skipper Manu Cruel and rookie John Eduave can be called up to start.
Whoever composes the backline on matchday must not only be ready for Gayoso but also his comrades Julian Roxas, Mark Nacional and Rupert Bana who are more than capable of chipping a goal or two if their main forward is tightly marked.
If La Salle can manage to cover the spaces and provide a faultless display in defence similar to its win over UP in the Final Four, then it has every chance of emerging victorious at Ateneo’s expense.
End the Drought
“We just needed to enter the Final Four. Anything can happen in the semi-finals. It is about who wants it more and who’s prepared for the semis. Now we’re one step closer to our goal.”
These were the words of Ocampo when he was being interviewed by a group of reporters after La Salle’s win last May 9, 2019. As a member of the 1998 team that last brought the championship to the school, he is as determined as anyone to help the current generation bring the trophy home.
“Like what (former La Salle goalkeeper) Patrick Deyto said, ‘They have to shut up coach Alvin because every time we talk about championships, it’s always the 1998 batch that we talk about.’”
Ultimately, it is up to the players to embrace and manifest their destinies on Thursday. When the referee blows his whistle to start the game, the team will do everything it can to bring the championship back to the Green & White.
More than anything else, they owe it to themselves to fight until the last second. It is the least that they deserve after they have given the Lasallian community so much to be proud of this season.