NCAA football kicked off on Tuesday, with San Beda kicking off the season and their title defense by slicing and dicing Emilio Aguinaldo College, 12-0. Ouch.
The Red Lions are loaded with players who have championship and international experience. I guess the Generals have a long way to go. I hear that in previous years they have even had trouble getting access to a training pitch.
In the second match at Rizal Memorial, Arellano finished strong to take out Mapua 5-1. The last two goals from the Chiefs came on defensive errors after the Cardinals threatened to score early in the second half.
I spoke to Cardinals coach Bonbon Estrabon afterwards. The UST assistant coach was asked to lead Mapua after the departure of Casper Ngo three months ago. He says that his team is unable to secure a field for training and often just goes to Luneta for ball drills early in the morning. There are no goal frames in Luneta, so I don’t know how the goalies manage. He also said that its very difficult to get the team together for training since their schedules vary and the players are mostly engineering and architecture students who take their classes seriously.
It’s a pity that this team doesn’t have more support, but full credit to the squad for hanging in at 3-1 until late. Arellano is a very tough squad that finished second two years ago.
In the final match of the day Lyceum Philippines University defeated Perpetual Help 2-0 thanks to a brace from James Paul Dorego. The kid nailed a sweet free kick in the first half that the undersized Altas keeper had no answer for.
Alongside Geno Dalampan of San Beda, the NCAA has two of the most lethal free-kick specialists in Pinoy collegiate football. Nelson Gasic, the LPU goalie coach, told me that in the Ang Liga preseason tournament Dorego scored twice from deadball situations.
Dorego is from Banga, South Cotabato. He lends credence to the theory that there are oodles of talented footballers in unknown hotbeds all over the country just waiting to be discovered.
Kudos also to coach Mike Cahes of Perpetual. I last saw them play two years ago when Arellano, lead by the gifted striker Alvin Obero, hammered them by something like 9-0. They have improved a lot since then.
NCAA will run until mid January. It’s a pity that they have such an odd format: single round robin then another single round robin for the top four teams. I’d love to see a proper double round robin and then a knockout final four like in the UAAP. And perhaps more time between games.
The nice thing about NCAA finishing early is that some of the better players from this league can play in the UFL next year, which I understand begins with the Cup in late January. The same cannot be said about the UAAP, which kicks off in February, I think, and runs alongside the UFL Cup. UFL teams should therefore try and pick off some of the NCAA’s best, like Beda’s towering centerback Matthew Asong, Dalampan, striker Conor Tacagni, and defender Neil Dorimon.
Another tantalizing prospect is St. Benilde keeper Ronilo Bayan, who was in RMS on Tuesday, taking in the action. The Blazers begin their season on Thursday. Bayan starred with the U19 national team in 2013, making a ton of saves in Jakarta’s Gelora Bungkarno stadium in front of a hostile crowd as the Philippines only lost to Indonesia 2-0. Bayan is close to UFL-ready but could use some match experience. Benilde finished fourth in the Unigames, losing the bronze medal match 2-1 to USLS.
In general NCAA play tends to get ragged at times, with some poor decision making in spots and rather uneven finishing. But there are some excellent players, and until the UFL in late January, it’s the best football we have in the Metro Manila area. I hope to take in as many matches as I can.
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH. All images copyright of the author.