The Bleachers King: UP vs FEU in UAAP football semis

Posted at 02/11/2013 4:01 PM

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Moro Lorenzo Field, Ateneo de Manila University

The final score line of 2-0 did not reflect the playoff match between Far Eastern University (FEU) and the University of the Philippines (UP), who won.

The Tamaraws dominated ball possession (65% vs 35%) and shot attempts (8 vs 3) but the Fighting Maroons made good on two of their three attempts.

FEU threatened with their usual passing game and had some dangerous runs inside the box but Ace Villanueva turned in a yeoman’s job at goal. The Tamaraws also had trouble on making that final pass as UP kept nine of the field players mostly behind the midfield line to defend and attacked only on the counter.

And on those counters, midfielder Nathan de Guzman found forward Jinggoy Valmayor twice on throughballs and each time he used his heft, dribbling ability, and powerful finishes to drill the ball past FEU keeper Michael Menzi.

While UP may have been lacking in ideas in their offense, the one thing they do well is find one of the most dynamic scoring machines we’ve seen in local football. FEU has Jon Melliza, who will win the Golden Boot this season, but Valmayor’s presence has forced opposing teams to commit more players on defense instead of helping out on the attack.

Case in point, UP’s last match against La Salle. The Green Booters left three defenders in the back just to box in Valmayor. For the most part, they stopped him, but in a dozen highball attempts or drops behind the defense, Valmayor got through on two occasions. And he did it again this time against FEU.

Heading into Season 75 of the UAAP men’s football tournament, FEU were the heavy favorites. After all, the core of the team were back-to-back UAAP juniors champions and they bested in succession perennial NCAA titlist San Beda, 2-nil, and University of St. La Salle (with many players from the Ceres squad that recently won the PFF Smart National Club Championship) that had homefield advantage, 5-4, to take the University Games football title.

Only once in the UAAP, they lost and drew with Ateneo, lost to UP and then La Salle for an 8-1-3 record. The late second round 1-1 draw with Ateneo was costly as by the end of the second round, they were tied with UP and that forced the playoff for the second seed that was bequeathed a twice-to-beat advantage.

Teams have finally figured out to play them – pack the middle and force them to go to the air where the taller defenders can win the aerial battles. When FEU fails to score early, teams adjust to their offense and shut them down.

Furthermore, against UP, the Tamaraws’ final pass left much to be desired. If there wasn’t enough support (the midfield did not move up behind the attack), the defense crowded Melliza who didn’t have enough daylight to squeeze in a proper shot. Once turned back, they were slow in getting back on defense.

FEU solved their moving up and down the field in the second half but when they couldn’t put the ball past Villanueva, UP got more confident. Valmayor’s second-half goal virtually put the game beyond reach as the Maroons rode out the game clock for a 2-0 win.

This current State U team is the weakest one they’ve fielded in years. They have a nice blend of veterans and talented newcomers to make them contenders. Their winning program plus their youthful national players in Valmayor and Raymark Fernandez make them an attractive destination for football players.

Head coach and national player Andres Gonzales is the beneficiary of this windfall of talent. He’s had many a parent tell him that he is sending his son to UP to play for him. It’s heartwarming and it puts him at a crossroads.

Gonzales is thinking of taking a sabbatical. He wants to play a bit more because he knows that window is open for only a little more before it shuts. The coaching opportunities will still be there after. But right now, the task is winning an incredible fourth title in five seasons.

As for FEU, they’ve recruited well from Compostela Valley to Bukidnon to South Cotobato. They’ve brought these kids together to create some of the most entertaining football on these local shores. Their passing game is better than most teams, the UFL included. But right now, that doesn’t mean much to them.

They know that the road to the UAAP title will go through Katipunan and for them to be the champions, they will have to beat the defending champs. In the next two games.