Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cebu Queen City closes out maiden UFL campaign

LAST year, Football Alliance chairman Santi Araneta met with Cebu Amateur Football Club officials in a brief meeting that would change the face of Cebu football.

Araneta, whose group runs the United Football League, was in Cebu to convince CAFC officials to join the league, the country's only play-for-pay football league. And with only a week to  go to meet the other club officials, come up with a lineup, logistical support and even a name for the Manila tournament, the men had to decide quickly.

But the decision didn't take long.

In the middle of the meeting with Araneta, construction magnate Ricky Dakay, the face of the CAFC, looked at Raffy Musni and nodded.

"I was really surprised," said Musni. "Afterwards I told him, 'Do you know what we are getting into?'"

Dakay, who is now the new Cebu Football Association president, responded, "Do you think I'm stupid?"

Joining a tough competition like the UFL is hard, and being a Cebu-based team in a Manila tournament, doubly harder.

Being a Cebu-based team in a Manila competition and with only one week to come up with everything--even more.

That simple nod meant CAFC officials had decided to join the UFL Cup, which was to start in October, and because of  a limited preparation, they were hoping the draw for the Cup would be favorable to the quickly-formed team, which they decided to name the Cebu Queen City United.

It didn't happen and the newbie team was grouped with powerhouse Global FC of Dan Palami, Pachanga and the Stallions--three teams which made the semifinal round of last  summer's Smart Club Championships.

"We were shocked by the draw!" Musni, who flew to Manila to attend the draw, said. 

The team called up some of the best players in Cebu like former national team members Rocky Garciano and John Michael Flores, and former national youth team members like Frederick Alazas and put Mario Ceniza in charge.  The team had a chance to sign up players like Chad Gould and Leigh Gunn, Filipino-foreigners who played for the Azkals previously and have roots in Cebu.

But Dakay said no,"We wanted to give our local players a chance to play in the UFL."

But the disparity of talent and preparation between a team of players years removed from playing in the national team against some of the current members of the national squad, or those who played for the team in the past two or three years was apparent.  Against Global FC, which eventually finished third place, in their first game, the team fell, 3-0, and against the Stallions in their next match, the first ever match involving a Cebu team that was televised live, they had a humbling, 8-0, bashing.

They did better against Pachanga, coming up with a few attacks in the second half only to be foiled, 4-0.

After spending close to P500,000 on airfare alone for three games, it was a disappointing showing as the team failed to score even a single goal.

And for Musni, who studied at the University of San Carlos together with Dakay, Glen Qusidio and other CAFC officials, it reminded him of the time Dakay nodded at him and he told his buddy, "Do you know what we are getting into?"

But the three losses only motivated the team and Coach Ceniza.

"It really was a baptism of fire," he said, "But at least we now know the level of competition and what to do."

The United Football Cup was just a taste for Queen City's real target--the United Football League, where they would compete in Division 2.

The team conducted a tryout and got the services of goal keeper Charles Villarta, Mark Hilay, Aljohn Armamento, Albert Nangkil, hanesin Prince Antony, Jaymile Conmigo, and national Under 19 member Dan Marnil Villarico.  They also retained Julius Acre, Christian Delan, Yance Menchavez, Dave Gerali, Benedict Arriola, Carlito Abadia, Josaphat Sacil, Ronald Mahilum, Rene Menchavez, Rommel Cuizon, Marion Cubelo, Ariel Cahilig, Aguilar, Mitsuo Tsunakiri, Limhar Baunsit, Flores and Alazas.

Though they would drop eight during the transfer window, it was this squad that was tasked to see action in Div. 2.

They had their first goal in the UFL in that 1-1 draw against Diliman, but were in for another disappointment after a 2-1 loss to Agila.

They had their first win, 2-0, against Laos but fell, 1-0, to Cup rivals Pachanga in the fourth week.

That win against Laos earned the players a bonus and the team started a reward system.

"If we win, we'd get lechon during our practices and Ricky would also double the team's allowance," Musni said.

The club would be burning their pockets as the team racked up an impressive run that saw it climb from seventh place in the division to third during the break.

First to fall was Dolphins United, 5-1, and they followed it with a 12-0 rout of Sunken Garden.  Team Soccerro got on the wrong end of a 6-1 rout and Forza was victim No. 4, 6-1.  In four games, Cebu scored 29 goals, conceding only three and they were  starting to get noticed by the fans.

And their regular weekend flights to Manila has earned them fans at the Mactan International Airport too.

"Every time we check in for our flights, the staff would greet us and wish us well," Musni said.

Musni said that some of the airport staff, too, would tell them of how their kids were already into football and were hoping to see Queen City play.

The team got their fifth win against Union, 4-1, and their sixth against Manila All-Japan, 5-2, before beating Lions Meltique Beef, 4-1.

Their solid run earned the team praises from the fans and even Araneta, the Football Alliance chairman who invited them to the league said, Cebu was ready to play in Division 1.

However, that would have to wait as for this year, only the top team in Division 2 gets promoted to replace the bottom team in Division 1.

Pachanga, undefeated in all its matches, has a solid hold of Divison 2, and earned its second win against Cebu in the second round of matches after the transfer window.

After that loss to Pachanga, Cebu Queen City had five wins and three draws in its next eight matches, including a 7-0 rout over Lions Meltique Beef and an impressive 4-1 win over Diliman Victory Liner, which was the team's only loss in Division 2 and ended its chances of chasing  Pachanga for the top spot.

After an experimental run in Division 2 featuring a an all-local team this year, the club is willing to tweak its lineup this year.

“We will now be open to hiring foreigners for our team,” Musni said. “In fact, two African players based here have approached us because they wanted to play for us.”

Dakay, too, is open to the idea.

“We have already shown that Cebu is a football hotbed,” he said.

Aside from hiring foreigners, the club is also planning to pay for the college education of the players.

“After their football career is over, having an education from a good university is a nice fallback,” Dakay said. “We encourage our players to finish their education.”

Musni also cited the case of midfielder Villarico, who studies at the University of the Visayas.

“Before, his grades weren’t that good but we kept on encouraging him to study. So he did and when his grades improved, I showed it to the rest of the team,” Musni said.

Villarico, a former national Under-19 team standout, ranks second in Division 2 for the most goals with 20.  Pachanga’s Freddy Gonzales, a former national team striker, leads the division with an impressive 33-goal tally.

The team will close out its campaign against sixth-ranked Forza this Saturday and is hoping to end it on a strong note.

After the season, the team will have a brief break and will have friendlies with Global FC in Cebu before preparing anew for the United Football Cup.

This time, it will be more prepared.

No comments: