Football Diaries: The Anatomy of a Moment

There are certain moments in La Salle sports that stand the test of time. Where images at your end are played in slow motion, reminisced during those rare reunions, or are passed down from one Lasallian generation to the next.

Stories like the great defence played by Kurt Bachmann’s mom, Lim Eng Beng entering the Loyola Gym Floor to chants of his name as the blue side stuttered his, or how the words “Plus the foul! Plus the foul!” can send chills down any Lasallian’s spine.

After all, it is in these moments where legends aren’t just made but live forever.

For the De La Salle Men’s Football Team, one of those moments came in their semifinal win against the University of the Philippines. But no, it wasn’t Jovan Marfiga’s header nor Shanden Vergara hush sign to a group of hecklers in the crowd after his winning goal.

This happened in the dying seconds of the match.

The fourth official had put up the board signalling 5 minutes with La Salle clinging on to a 2-1 lead entering the 90th minute. It was well past the designated stoppage time as UP sent a desperate long ball into the midfield for one last attack.

A series of headers brought the ball close to the touchline and the DLSU bench. There was Coach Alvin Ocampo desperately instructing his boys, signalling them to not let it anywhere near the danger area.

Walang bibitaw’ kept running through the ex-national team player’s mind. A message the coaching staff has emphasized to the Archers so many times.

They’ve been here before, giving up late goals to UST and FEU in the elimination round. A team of 13 rookies could understandably be given leeway for such mistakes, but not from Ocampo. He always believed that for what experience the team lacked, they had to make up for it with heart.

Some players don’t believe this anymore, but you will always need heart,” said Ocampo.

His boys showed plenty of it in this game. Going up against the defending champions filled with stars of the Philippine U-23 team, no one gave the Green and White a shot in such a momentous occasion. But here they were a few seconds from victory.

The ball falls to rookie Mikio Umilin on the wing right next to his coach. He shields the ball from a Maroon in an effort to take a few more precious seconds off till the final whistle. Ocampo stands next to him as he continues to push his players on as he recalls, “We wanted to show the players the coaching staff was here for them, to guide them in those crucial moments”.

Umlilin kicks the ball out as he succumbs to cramps and falls in front of the bench. His coach looks desperately at the referee.

The full-time whistle blows. Half the crowd erupts. La Salle is back in the UAAP finals.

Ocampo falls to his knees and clenches his fists, he himself admits that he buckled at the sense of relief that overcame him. He couldn’t describe what was going through his mind at that moment.

Maybe he remembered all the hardships the team faced his season. Maybe he was overcome by the thought of one of the youngest squads in the league has made the finals. Or maybe that the belief in his players that they can bring home a championship is starting to manifest itself.

Ocampo while still on his knees grabs the closest player he can find to celebrate, it was Umilin who was still struggling on the ground.

He hugs him as he is overcome by emotion till he hears the Fil-Japanese winger desperately say, “Coach, I’m cramping up.

Ocampo hurriedly gets his full weight off the rookie and stretches his player’s leg. He looks around to see pandemonium as both coaches and players with fists in the air celebrate their finals berth.

He finds himself in a gaze. Perhaps thinking maybe this group can finally bring the championship back to Taft, last done by Ocampo as a player in 1997-1998 UAAP season.

As he stretched his player out, he remembered his mom and Coach Hans Smit arguing to take her son off due to an obvious injury he suffered early in the finals match. He pleaded to stay on and got himself a championship, and a broken ankle to boot.

Now his boys will have the opportunity to do the same. But all his reminiscing and daydreaming is cut short as Umilin screams, “Coach! It’s the other leg!”.

After the celebrations had finally calmed down, the La Salle squad huddled for one last time that day. Ocampo reaffirmed his belief in his wards that they could finally be the team to end their school’s 20-year title drought.

But for now, it was time to rest, recover, and ready themselves for next Thursday. Perhaps an even bigger moment waits.