UC Erco dumps Tagum, advances to next round of PFF Smart Cup qualifiers

(This is my story for Sun.Star Cebu's Oct. 4 edition)
A DEFENSIVE adjustment paid offensive dividends for University of Cebu-Erco, as it routed the visiting University of Mindanao-Tagum, 5-1, in their final match of the Group D qualifiers of the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) Smart Cup Club championships in the Cebu City Sports Center.

UC-Erco finished the qualifiers with six points on two wins, and will advance to the quarterfinal round along with Group E winner, Laos, which also scored a 5-1 win over Cagayan yesterday.

Julius Acre got UC-Erco, which only needed a draw to advance, the lead in the 22nd minute but Temar Morata took advantage of a miscommunication by the defense to bang in the equalizer 12 minutes later.

UC-Erco, which blanked Marbel FC, 3-0, in its first game, had a hard time dealing with the speed of the Davaoenos in the first half, forcing coach Glenn Ramos to put in central defender John Carlos Ejara at halftime.

“The two Nigerian defenders weren’t communicating well, that’s why I decided to put in Ejara,” said Ramos, who also decided to utilize his small but quicker guys at the flanks.

“The second adjustment was we matched their pace. The Davao playersare very young and very fast, we matched that and we also used our experience,” he said.

And it worked.

Davao managed to get a soft attempt five minutes into the exchange but it was all Cebu the rest of the way. Rogelio Castillan Jr., whose pace off and on the ball proved to be a headache for the Davao defense, got open inside the box for a bit but was brought down though no penalty was called.

Defender Jan Michael Flores tried his luck with his left foot off a set play but his
effort just sailed wide, while Dan Villarico, who scored from 25 yards against Marbel, had a hat trick of misses in the next five minutes.

He misfired from 25 yards, and moments later, he chested the ball for an open volley inside the box but it went sky high. Another left-footed effort also missed.

Such was Cebu’s dominance in the match that Davao rarely had another chance on the other end.

“I told the players to press and from pressing we switched to low defending if we lose the ball,” Ramos said.

It worked as Davao, which drew Marbel, 1-1, the other day, rarely got past the half-court line.

Castillon earned another freekick from 30 yards but Aljohn Armamento’s thunderous effort merely kissed the bar. In the 60th, Acre found Epifanio Ynot open but the striker misfired inside the box.

There was no misfiring for Ynot five minutes later, as John Marcellana found him open inside the box and the striker patiently waited for the keeper to bite before calmly firing it to the back of the net for a 2-1 score.

Davao, which needed to win to advance, tried to push for a goal and paid for it in a counter attack. John Rey Nieves’ cross found Villarico, who made up for his three miscues earlier and scored the third goal.

Davao thought it narrowed the gap to 3-2, minutes later but their goal was disallowed for offside, leading to complaints from coach Rolando Guerra.

With three minutes left, Guerra was still talking to match officials about the botched call and while he wasn’t looking, the speedy Castillan scored on a one-on-one for 4-1.

Sensing the futility of the game, Guerra sent in three subs, and John Rey Melgo scored the final goal off a cross from Rene Menchavez for the final count.

Ramos said they will resume training for the quarterfinal round next week, while team manager Rodney Orale said he is optimistic that they will have Philippine Air Force’s Ian Araneta and two Nigerians from UC for the last eight. Both are barred from playing since the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. season is ongoing.

The quarterfinal round will have UC-Erco, Laos, Stallion, Ceres FC, the Luzon qualifier and three teams from the UFL.


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