Fair Play: Will re-tooled Erco get past group stage?

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Jan. 21 edition)
IN LESS than a year, University of Cebu-Erco BRO will have its third reincarnation, this time for the Philippine Football Federation.

Smart Club championships, and I think this edition could be the team's best yet.

Of course, the first one was the African-laden team that won the Aboitiz Cup last March, the first step in the ladder for the PFF Smart Club championships. Since each club is limited to only five foreign players for the Smart Club, another elimination was held in Cebu to determine the representative for the regional finals.

Sporting new players, Erco FC still won the right and went on to top the qualifiers. But weeks before the national finals I sensed some trouble as based on the online posts of team management, only a few players showed up for the training sessions.

Hence the team's third composition after a second retooling. The team management, who in the past, have always gotten hold of the Philippine Air Force regulars as guest players, have boosted its lineup with Mark Ferrer and Ian Araneta of the Air Force, and Chieffy Caligdong, Paolo Pascual, Reynald Villareal and Ronnie Aguisanda of the Green Archers United.

If this was the national open of say 10 years ago, when FAs (with a few exceptions) hold their own eliminations to determine the representatives to the regionals and national finals, well there's something wrong with the move, right? But this is the Smart Club Championship--or should we now start calling it, the UFL pre-season tournament. To go there without any reinforcements would be suicide.

Consider their opposition, of the eight qualifiers, six are from the UFL--Global, Loyola, Kaya, Stallion, Ceres and Laos--and the other non UFL team is M'lang. And if what I suspect is right, M'lang and Erco would be put in separate groups, meaning each would be facing UFL competition in the Smart Club championships. (Update: Grouping's out. Erco will face Stallion, M'lang and Global in Group B, while the other Group has Kaya, Loyola, Ceres and Laos).

So this latest acquisition by Erco should be a boost in their campaign and also, it means that some seven years after last representing Cebu, keeper Paolo finally gets to don Cebu's jersey again.

Of course, the addition, doesn't automatically guarantee a spot in the knockout stage, they are still the underdogs.

But I'm beginning to like this underdog's chance of scoring a few upsets, especially against the heavyweights whose mindset perhaps are still on vacation mode.



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