Rookie rampage in UAAP men's football
MANILA, Philippines – Rookies are supposed to be mostly on the sidelines in any football competition. But not in UAAP Season 81. This year, rookies are taking center stage right off the bat, making game-changing moves on almost every match.
Coach Hans Smit of DLSU gives one reason why this has happened: the conversion to a K-12 system of education.
“Kids have two more years of training and exposure,” says Smit. That means today's rookies have a tremendous leg up on freshmen back in the day when high school topped out at Grade 10.
Pinoy football fans have been the big winners, as they enjoy the stellar play from the kids. And every team has at least one rookie who has made an impact.
ADMU: Jacob Liao, Szymon Mercado, Jabez Setters, Luca Alleje
William Grierson is one of the Blue Eagles' most experienced defenders. When he injured his patella on U22 international duty in Cambodia at the start of the UAAP season, ruling him out until the second round, freshman Jacob Liao, a Davaoeño by way of De La Salle Zobel, had to fill in.
The Ateneans have overcome a shaky start to win two games in a row, 5-0 against UST and 4-0 over Adamson. Jayrah Rocha, the other CB, has given Liao credit for helping out in the shutouts.
“Jake is a very calm type of defender but goes hard when he has to. He's proven to be reliable in the past few games. Will is a big loss for us in the back four, but Jake has stepped up well in his place.”
Midfielder Szymon Mercado is, in the words of Rocha, “very important to the team.”
“Ever since Szymon was placed in the starting role as a defensive midfielder, we've been more solid in defense. His work ethic and desire to learn is second to none. He'll be a great player in the future as long as he stays humble like he is today,” maintains Rocha.
Rocha also offers praise for Setters, the Fil-Brit rookie with a futsal background.
“He gives 100% no matter what role he's given.”
Alleje is already on the scoresheet, knocking in from close range against Adamson. Twin brother Arturo plays for Ateneo's rivals across the street, UP. His sister Cassandra is on the Lady Maroons squad.
ADU: Rey Poncardas
The attacking mid from Gingoog City had been a regular starter before coming off the bench last Thursday in the 1-1 draw against league-leading FEU.
“Talagang malaking bagay siya sa opensa ng team (He is a big addition to the offense of the team) because he can hold the ball upfront and create opportunities and scoring chances for the team,” says Arvin Soliman, the Falcons coach.
Poncardas is composed on the ball, and if he can speed up his decision making, will be a real quality player in the future. But more importantly is his effect on the team's psyche.
“Yung attitude niya pati during practices and game na ayaw niya magpatalo, nadadala yung buong team,” continues the coach.
(His refuse-to-lose attitude in games and practices is picked up by the whole team.)
The Falcons have yet to win a game but have drawn 4 of their 6 assignments as of press time, including the 1-1 standoff against first-place FEU last Thursday. Poncardas could be key to them getting their maiden victory.
DLSU: Shanden Vergara, Mikio Umilin, Mo Almohjili, Jovan Marfiga
La Salle has 13 bald-headed rookies this season, but these 4 stand out.
Vergara is a phenom from De La Salle Zobel and San Carlos City. He finally got on the scoresheet with a pair of strikes against UP, one from way outside of the box.
But watch any DLSU game and you will notice that the offense often runs through the left side, where Umilin, a Filipino-Japanese, is stationed.
“He has high technical skills and can make use of 1v1 situations wisely,” says DLSU coach Alvin Ocampo.
Meanwhile Fil-Saudi Mohammad Almohjili usually comes on in the second half, where he tends to wreak havoc with his energy.
“Almohjili can change the game and is very annoying to play against,” says Ocampo.
Marfiga is a Masbateño who is naturally a midfielder but has been converted to a central defender. He has made the transition well, helping La Salle to a good record from where they can attack the top two seeding spots in the second round.
“Jovan has speed with the ball on transition, and high ball mastery skills,” says Ocampo.
Off the pitch, the team is also upbeat.
“I feel very good and optimistic about this team because everyone is blending nicely and there is no other way but up,” says coach Hans Peter Smit.
FEU: Gio Pabualan, Martini Rey, Viejay Frigillano, Pete Forrosuelo, Jermi Darapan
Pabualan, the celebrated U19 national, scored on debut versus UST. But his last goal, in the draw against Adamson, was more his style, an audacious volley.
Pabualan is a known entity but impact sub Martini Rey is also impressing. The Barotac Nuevo product is a capable finisher with good size. He has already scored this season but has been robbed of two outside-of-the-box goals by two great saves already this year. First it was Frank Rieza of UE and last Thursday, Adamson's Carl Viray in the dying minutes.
Frigillano and Forrosuelo also played together in FEU's junior team and on the U19 NT. It's unusual to have two rookies starting at centerback in the UAAP but it's working.
Fun fact: Frigillano is from Mahayag, Zamboanga del Sur while Forrosuelo hails from Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte.
Darapan is from Olongapo and scored on opening day as well, threading the needle between UE keeper Frank Rieza and the near stick. The winger was a handful coming on in the second half against ADU, his forays from the flanks did not result in a goal but he did cause trouble for the Falcons D.
“These players really want to learn,” says coach Bo Bae Park.
“They are always asking me how to do things on the pitch. I am happy about that.”
NU: Ivan Ouano and Josh Broce
The Bulldogs got their first win last Thursday morning, topping UE 2-0 on two goals from Ouano, the rookie from Cebu.
NU coach Mari Aberasturi was breathless in his praise for his fellow Cebuano, who scored with his left foot from way outside. This in contrast to previous goals, which have been with his right.
Ouano is tall, strong, technically sound, and is now the leading scorer in the UAAP with 5 goals, one more than UST's Conrado Dimacali. But the scary thought is that his teammate Joshua Broce might be just as good.
Broce, from San Carlos City, has youth national team experience. He also offered up this beauty in his first UAAP Seniors match against UP.
(We are referring to the goal, not the flamenco-inspired celebration.)
It boggles the mind to think that these two gunslingers could play alongside each other in the UAAP until 2023.
UE: Fitch Hazh Fylys Arboleda and Champ Marin
Coach Fitch Florence Peter Arboleda says his younger brother Hazh is working through an ankle sprain that is hampering him, but that he has been playing well.
The revelation with the Red Warriors is Marin, from Sibuyan island just off Romblon.
“Sa training medyo di mo makita sa bata yung magandang laro kasi palagi napapagalitan. Pero noong nag start na ang season makita mo na lahat ng tinuro na-aapply niya sa game,” marvels coach Fitch.
(In training we could not see him play well because he was always getting reprimanded for mistakes. But once the season began, everything we taught him he applied in the game.)
The winger was one of 4 first-year players to score on opening day, against FEU in a 4-1 loss.
UP: Orlan Togores, Nikko Caytor, Vince Parpan, Arturo Alleje
It's been a disappointing season for the defending champs but coach Anto Gonzales can look to the future at the very least.
Three FEU high school kids, Togores, Caytor, and Parpan, all fled the gold and green for maroon in the off-season and have been mostly used off the bench.
Togores, from Iligan City, is “going to be the anchor of the midfield once Daniel Saavedra and Christian Lapas graduate,” says Gonzales.
Parpan is a creative attacker who “makes goal scoring opportunities for himself and the forwards,” adds Gonzales.
Caytor is a wide player who is lethal 1v1. The coach is hoping he can further develop his decision making.
Alleje, from HEDCEN school, is playing through some knocks at the moment. Gonzales believes he can contribute “immensely” once he is fully fit.
UST: Glen Ramos and Erich Oral
Nicknamed Tamtam, Glen Ramos is already a staple in the Tigers midfield. Another Cebuano freshman, Erich Orale, is on defense.
A nagging injury is keeping Ramos from playing at 100%, but he did show us a fine left-footed goal in his first game.
UST coach Marjo Allado says Ramos' distribution is “excellent,” and one imagines he follows in the footsteps of that other great Tiger attacking mid from a few years ago, Karl Bronda.
Orale, another Bosconian like Ramos, is a sturdy right back who has been shifted to centerback with the injury to Juan Villanueva.
“Since the preseason he has been outstanding as a right back,” says Allado.
A third Cebuano rookie, striker Miguel Mercader, had knee surgery late last year and could appear in the second round.
The coach heaped perhaps the best praise on his youngsters with this statement.
“Actually kung maglaro sila parang second or third year na sa UAAP.” (They're playing like they're in their second or third year in the UAAP.)
Any rookies I might have missed? Tweet me at @PassionateFanPH if you think I have left anyone out. – Rappler.com