Football Diaries: Turning Boys to Men

Everyone goes through some sort if rite of passage into adulthood. Like the teenage boy who is handed a razor by his dad for the very first time to finally shave off the untidy mustache and lost facial hair that mom has probably been complaining about. Like the first time a teenage boy gets caught using his bangin betty after not locking his door, with his pants at his ankles. Like when a teenage girl has her boyfriend scared off by her dad for the first time.

That young man will have the satisfaction of ‘adulting’ with pride, it isn’t just a shave, its one step closer to being a man. Soon he’ll be maneuvering that razor with ease as he fashions his facial hair to the likes of James Harden or David Beckham.

But of course that doesn’t come instantly, it is a common sight to see young men with razor cuts above their lips or the lingering missed facial hair on the side of their face. On the surface it could be frustrating or even laughable, but underneath is something invisible to the naked eye – progress.

This was something the De La Salle University Men’s Football Team aspired for as it entered the UAAP season as one of the youngest teams around with 13 rookies. A successful preseason campaign resulted in whispers that this team would come of age much earlier than anyone expected with a deep run in the playoffs.

But as their opening match against UST showed, this young squad will have a lot cuts and missed spots to face ahead.

A Dream Start

A hot noontime sun towered over the artificial pitch at FEU Fern Diliman. But the boys in green took the field with the coolest of demeanors and in high spirits full of confidence.

The first eleven were loose as they psyched each other up during the pre-kickoff huddle. They showed no signs of fear facing last year’s finalists knowing the preparations they have undertaken.

The game started brightly with the Archers seizing early control of the match, and it was obvious from the beginning that this was a different team. La Salle without a natural target man in the line-up did not settle for long balls to the forwards as they have done in seasons past.

They instead started their attack by retaining possession and building through interplay and movement. Midfielders Jed Diamante and Paeng Siaggoat combined well with Shenden Vergara and Mikkio Umlilin to create space in attacking areas behind the UST backline.

In the 13th minute, Diamante won the ball in midfield and quickly released Vergara on the right wing. A quick stepover from the Zobel-alumnus left his defender in the dust as he whipped the ball to unmarked rookie John Rhey Lagura who slotted it home for the early lead.

1-nil to De La Salle. The players, bench, and the sizeable green gallery go wild with a dream start to the season. Was this the young hungry team everyone said to watch out for?

Snap back to reality

The La Salle crowd was buzzing and the pep squad banged their drums with more fervor under the scorching heat. The players have grown in even more confidence pushed on as coaches screamed necessary instructions from the bench to keep momentum going.

That euphoria all but lasted four minutes.

A crucial miscommunication between Goalkeeper Gab Villacin and centerbacks Jovan Marfiga and Yoshi Koizumi leads to a deep UST free kick being headed in without a challenge. An error that left the keeper and his defenders in a confused discussion of who should have went after the ball.

A Jr Villanueva free kick that was intended as a cross somehow found itself in the back of the net after another defensive miscue in the 36th minute. This time no words were spoken as the young team was left in stunned silence having lost their early lead.

La Salle made a couple of changes at the half in order to get back in the match. But UST’s Glen Ramos unchallenged effort from outside the box in the 68thminute rolled the ball and the match past Villacin’s reach.

That dream start ended in a nightmare. Those heads held high in confidence before kickoff were now bowed down during the seemingly slow Alma Mater hymn.

Growing Pains

Despite the defeat, DLSU Coach Alvin Ocampo knows that the opening game showed success in the tournament won’t come easy especially for a young team like his.

“A good wake-up call that UAAP is a different story from the preseason, yet it is still a long way to go. I told them this is how it feels to lose a UAAP game, swallow your pride and show character towards the next game,” said the ex-national team player.

In a game where the score line arguably flattered UST, there are plenty of positive signs to show this young squad is slowly growing into a group of men. They dealt with the Tigers’ physicality by sticking to their own game and refused to be drawn into a physical battle with the veteran team.

The attack is exciting and the most fluid it has been since the Archers’ last finals’ run since Season 77. Despite the errors and obvious lack of chemistry in defense, there are signs of the making a solid defense with the likes of rookie Marfiga holding his own.

But Ocampo said if they want the process to translate into progress, he needs his players to pick up their game. “Everything is a learning process but we need to be fast learners,” said Ocampo.

So like the young man and his razor, expect these Archers to keep making mistakes and errors that will make us not know to whether laugh or cry. But underneath all that, remember that they are progressing towards something special slowly but surely.

La Salle plays a resurgent Adamson on Sunday at 1PM at FEU FERN Diliman. The next match in discovering if this season will reveal this young team to be potential contenders or merely a future contender’s potential.