Fair Play: Can USC recover from 0-2 hole?

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Aug. 29 edition)
LAST year, in the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. college football finals, the University of San Carlos passed a stringent test of character by overcoming a one-goal deficit to beat upstart University of Southern Philippines Foundation via shootout.

This year, the defending champion is 0-2 in its first two games, and in the lone half that I was able to watch, I was impressed with how the Golden Booters seem to toy around the University of the Visayas--the Cesafi’s presumed whipping boy--before taking a 1-0 lead at halftime.

I sat near the USC bench in that game with assistant coach Totot Colina and one thing I noticed in that half was that the USC players were too silent. It doesn’t show on TV but football is a noisy game on the pitch, and players are constantly talking (or should be). That is, players who are used to playing with each other.

So I asked coach Totot how many rookies they have on the team and he pointed to four on the bench on three on the field.

And mind you, this was still the first half, when USC keeper Leonard Tan was barely involved as the Warriors controlled the play and the pace, creating a lot of chances on the other end.

In a 10-minute span, they had three clear chances that was begging to be converted and that 44th minute goal by JM Kwan was presumed by some to be the first of many, especially against a “weak” UV team that lost, 4-0, a day earlier.

So I left at half-time, for desk duties, and an hour later read the submitted report that not only did USC lose, the team allowed three goals in the second half.

“What the hell happened?” I’m sure was the question of the day for USC.

Scoring three goals in the second half after trailing by one speaks of resiliency and brilliant coaching adjustments, traits USC showed in that second half against USPF in last year’s final. And traits that UV showed at USC’s expense last Sunday.

Can USC recover today against UC? That’s the interesting question. A win against UC means USC’s fate is still in its hands, as a loss means it has to sweep its remaining matches and that two of the three teams that it lost to would lose against each other.

But the bigger question of the day, I think, would be, “Who will be coaching USC today?”

Coach Mario Ceniza, the accomplished high school tactician who won his first college title in his first try, was consipicously absent in USC’s first game. In the second game, I caught him climbing up the stairs to the grandstand, which sort of bolstered the “He will be back,” responses to my question, “Where is coach Mario?”

No offense to Coach Totot and Allan Medalle but a coach like Mario offers something different to the table and I hope the USC athletic department appreciates that.

I also hope, too, they’d realize the irony of having a defending champion from a school that has the best-kept football field reduced to practicing in the most-abused football field. Yes, USC the Cesafi champion has the USC stadium but its football team is practicing at the CCSC.

Is that part of the reason why USC is at 0-2? Perhaps and perhaps not.

But one thing for sure. USC has got to stop losing or it can kiss its title defense goodbye.


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