Football Diaries: All Grown Up

Whenever people talked about the De La Salle University (DLSU) Men’s Football Team over the course of the season, many are quick to point out its youth. The most notable number mentioned is 13 – that’s how many rookies the team has in its Season 81 roster.

Youth is often seen by spectators as a disadvantage. It is often associated with lack of experience. In fact, there is a famous football saying that goes, “You cannot win anything with kids” which Liverpool legend Alan Hansen used to refer to what became a Manchester United team whose young players went on to become the backbone of their success.

If some view it that way, the Green Archers most certainly do not. Going through 14 challenging matches, the DLSU Men’s Football Team marched on to the Final Four of the UAAP Men’s Football Tournament. In the process, they have amassed eight wins, a draw, and five losses that amounted to 25 points – enough for a third place finish in the eliminations. Getting there was never easy which made it all the more satisfying.

Early setbacks

There was not much fanfare when the season began for DLSU, which turned out to benefit the green-and-white. Parading 13 rookies together with a core whose experience did not stack up against other teams, the Archers made a huge impression in their first seven matches. Entering the second round, La Salle was in second place. They were only three points behind FEU with Ateneo and UST also nearby – both just less than three points away. In addition, the rest of the field – including defending champions UP – were not far behind.

La Salle’s first assignment in the second round was against UST. In a battle of attrition, the Archers looked to have done enough to erase the recent memory of losing to FEU with a hard-earned 1-0 win. Miguel Mercader and the Tigers had other ideas though as his added time equalizer denied La Salle of a victory.

Losing two points, especially late on, often feels worse than it usually seems. La Salle could not have just taken two more points as it should have also denied UST one less point. Instead, it led to a swing that nearly caught up with DLSU in the end. There was little time for the boys to recover as they prepared to face two perennial title contenders who were eager to get even.

Both UP and Ateneo fell to La Salle in the first round. With some catching up to do, both Quezon City schools sought retribution. The Maroons pounced early to overcome the Archers who then had four days to shrug off a defeat before facing fiercer rivals, Ateneo. DLSU looked good early as they took the lead against the Eagles.

Unfortunately, the Ateneans overturned the deficit and inflicted damage by scoring two goals in the first half. The latter of the two came at the worst possible time for La Salle. DLSU still had enough time to at least prevent a defeat but their pursuit of parity made them vulnerable. In the end, the Eagles marched on to what looked to be a flattering 3-1 win.

Rediscovering the rhythm at the right time

Following the defeat to Ateneo, La Salle dropped from second to fifth. Still level on points with UP in fourth, the Archers had time to gather their feet and pick up enough points to qualify. Adamson, UE, and NU are not Final Four regulars but they have shown in Season 81 that they are capable of harming their more traditionally successful counterparts.

First came amongst the three was Adamson. The Falcons had been enjoying a wonderful season highlighted by their upset of the defending champions, UP. The Archers were eager not to experience the same fate, especially at a time when they badly needed a win. Failure to beat Adamson would deal La Salle’s Final Four hopes a huge blow.

The Archers shot themselves on the foot when a rookie mistake by Franz Brosoto was punished by the Falcons. The good thing about the unfortunate incident was there was still plenty of football to be played. With their backs against the wall, the Taft-based squad demonstrated their resolve by finishing the match 4-2 winners. Finally, a much-needed win provided a huge confidence boost to the Lasallians.

UE and NU then came La Salle’s way. In both games, the Archers handled different kinds of adversity with flying colors. Against the Warriors, DLSU endured a cagey affair by staying patient. It took 76 minutes for La Salle to take an advantage they never surrendered. In the following match, the Archers needed to dig deep once again as they overturned another 1-0 deficit into a decisive 3-1 win against NU.

Withstanding three tricky opponents, the Lasallians knew they had their playoffs destiny right in their own hands. Right before facing FEU, La Salle was in fourth place. Anything but a win would endanger their postseason appearance should results elsewhere do not go their way. Not leaving things to chance, the Archers had one simple mission – win.

A hard-fought 90 minutes against FEU exhausted La Salle. Chances went begging especially late on as Jovan Marfiga had several chances to clinch what would have been a winning goal. He may have been denied but his team would not be. Another rookie, Xavier Zubiri, had the honor of sending La Salle back to the Final Four with a serendipitous strike in added time. It was a poetic finish to a second round that began with a match they nearly won had it not been for a similar situation on the other side of the pitch.

Testing the champions

DLSU’s 15th match of Season 81 would be against a familiar foe – UP. Also last year’s Final Four opponents, the Maroons look more dangerous than ever as they made up for their slow start by winning six of their last seven matches. Without a doubt the hottest team in the league right now, UP is favoured by many to see off La Salle.

Of course, the Archers would beg to differ. They have the perfect opportunity to see how far they have grown in a year. Already with a win against UP under their belts, the Lasallians would be determined to prove to everyone, most importantly to themselves, that they have what it takes to become champions. Squaring off with the incumbent is the best way to figure it out.

Unlike in other sports, there is no advantage carried by the higher ranked teams in the Final Four of men’s football. For La Salle, it means a lot. They start just where their opponents do and in a single game of football, anything can happen. As mentioned above, many would consider them underdogs which appears to fit them nicely.

While still two steps away from glory, the DLSU Men’s Football Team has shown everyone that within a year, it looks like they have all grown up – and would continue to do so – together. In such a setting, success usually comes sooner rather than later.