The Arellano Chiefs pulled of a mild upset with a 2-1 win over San Beda last Friday in Rizal Memorial.
I say “mild” because technically they were the better of the two unbeaten teams, with five wins from five. The Lions, on the other hand, were held to a goalless standoff by Benilde midweek.
But San Beda, the defending champs, might have been considered the favorites, especially after winning the first three games of their campaign against the league’s lightweights, (Mapua, Emilio Aguinaldo, and Perpetual), by a combined score of 43-0. They struggled to beat Lyceum 1-0 before the draw against CSB, however.
On Friday the Lions bossed the possession and were rewarded with a fine close-range goal from U23 Azkal Connor Tacagni. But the tide turned in the second half. The Chiefs got an opportunistic strike from Robert Corsames off a quickly-taken free kick, then with minutes remaining, Ronald Espiñosa of Santa Barbara, Iloilo, drove in a peach of a free kick that Beda keeper Michael Yuvienco could only get half a digit to, not enough to stop it.
I have seen Judy Saluria’s Arellano team twice this season, against Benilde and now against San Beda. Both times they were outplayed. Both times they walked off the field with three points.
Arellano are not the most gifted team. They don’t play a particularly attractive brand of football. The intricate passing sequences of the Lions and the Blazers are much easier on the eye. The Chiefs also play with a throwback stopper/sweeper formation with the last defender potentially playing the entire wing attack of their opponents onside for several yards.
But somehow they just get it done. It also helps that they have one of the tallest goalies in collegiate football, six-footer Jericho Desalisa, in the frame of goal. On Friday he denied Miguel Caindec with an excellent reflex save from close-range.
Arellano are pretty well organized, packing it in when they have to and launching counterattacks once they get the ball.
They also love to stay the course when their opponents shoot themselves in the foot. Benilde lost to them because they allowed an early goal and then had a man sent off with two yellows before the halftime whistle. Beda squandered all sorts of attempts against Arellano. They easily had 65% of the possession and far more attempts. Caindec had a gilt-edged chance in stoppage time to salvage a point but his shot fluttered harmlessly over the bar.
San Beda were without Neil Dorimon, the other SEA Games veteran. The centerback broke his hand in the draw against Benilde and is out for the season. He was unlucky to have it stepped on inadvertently by a Blazer. That is a big blow to coach Nhiboy Pedimonte’s title aspirations.
At the final whistle the Chiefs dogpiled as if they had won the title. That is half-true. The NCAA uses a rather odd format: all seven teams play single round robin, then the top four play a single round robin, with each match needing a winner, no draws. Then a title match. If a team sweeps the first round, like what Arellano did, then they are in the title game even if they lose all second round matches.
It’s a cockamamie format if you ask me. Now the only thing Arellano needs to worry about is not getting any injuries in the second round. However, if they win the second round, (or is it sweep? I’m not sure), then they are the champs even without the need for a championship game.
There are moves to make a full second round involving all teams, then hopefully a knockout final four like in the UAAP. I hope these efforts succeed. Right now its only the better teams that are getting the benefit of more games and more exposure. Making the first-round winner play the second round winner means the first round champ can take their foot off the gas for an entire round of games. Silly, if you ask me. Good thing the UAAP abandoned this format many years ago.
But no matter what the format, this plucky Arellano side is the team to beat this season. Once the second round goes underway next year, let’s see if San Beda can rebound and make a run at the title again.
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.