Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fair Play: Air Force rules UFL CUp

(This is the draft of my column for Sun.Star Cebu on Dec. 12)
WHEN news of the dealing and signing of players in the United Football League hit the news, one glaring comment I heard from a football insider was that the days of Air Force as a dominant team was over.

And I agreed with him.

You see, Air Force isn’t like any other football clubs, who can offer loads of money to guys they want to hire to play for their team. And before the UFL Cup, there have been quite a few marquee signings, none of them of course, went to the Air Force.

The flying wing of the Armed Forces, like the Navy and the Army, all rely on their enlisted personnel, guys who signed up because they want to continue playing while earning a decent salary as members of the reserve forces.

 “Air Force will also have trouble holding on to their key players because I’m sure clubs are tempting them with huge offers,” I was told.

Of course, I even said that I expect Chieffy to leave the Air Force, soon. But when I got to ask Chieffy during his visit to Cebu a few months ago he said he had no plans because, he said, “Malaki ang utang na loob ko sa Air Force.”

The Air Force, too, unlike the Army and Navy, had a rather soft reputation. One referee, who has officiated in the Army vs. navy games, said of how the two teams played so fiercely that there was one game that ended with one official cocking his pistol.

But when I asked him about the Air Force, he said, “Wala yan sila.”

And after two months and change, it’s the Air Force that’s crowned the UFL Cup champions after its 2-0 victory over the Loyola Meralco Sparks last Saturday.

I also find it apt that in these days that most fans look to young guns like Chieffy, Phil Younghusband, Aly Borromeo and Angel Guirado among others, it’s the veterans who shone for Air Force.

Yanti Barsales, 38, scored a goal while Edmund Mercado, 37, shut down a Loyola offense that included Phil Younghusband and Mark Hartmann, guys who have 37 goals in the previous six matches.

I’m particularly happy for Mercado because back in 2004, I was told that he quit football. I was surprised since this guy was a phenom and, along with Freddy Gonzales, he was one of the first players I’ve associated with the good side of Philippine football.

Back in the late 90s, I remember seeing snippets of a game and while the commentators were ripping the defense, they had nothing but praises for Mercado, who I think even won a best goalkeeper award in a senior Southeast Asian tourney.

And in the latest resurgence of Philippine football, it’s the 37-year-old Mercado who was named best keeper and Yanti who’s got the MVP.


GLOBAL’S THIRD. Congratulations, too, are in order to Dan Palami, Graeme Mackinnon, Paolo Pascual and the rest of the Global FC guys, which took third place over Kaya FC, 2-1.

There was one sequence late in the first half when the Global defense had six saves—five in a single play—foiling a Kaya team that also lost a 3-0 lead to Loyola in the semifinals.

By the way, anybody who isn’t familiar with Philippine football and who happened to catch the late moments of the Global vs. Kaya game must have wondered who that rather “healthy player” who came in as a late substitute.

Of all the “healthy” dudes who play football, that guy probably has the best workout, having joined guys like Younghusband brothers, Chieffy and the rest in scrimmages since 2010.

If you want to know who the guy is, you can meet him tonight at the Azkal Sports Bar and Grill at 8:30ish. He’d be bringing Chieffy, Ian, Paolo and another legendary figure of Cebu football, Graeme Mackinnon.

And since they have an outreach program in Canduman Elementary School tomorrow, you might want to bring along a few football goodies for kids.

See you!

TRIBUTE.  “Respect for the men who paved the road to Filipino football success. (Those) new to the league like myself, owe a lot to these guys who've been here. Our current success in Filipino football is buil(t) upon the people who've worked hard at it since the beginning. It's their time to shine!” Kaya FC’s Lexton Moy on Twitter after the UFL Cup finals.

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