UAAP 81 Football: UP in unfamiliar territory after back-to-back losses
Santino Honasan on Mar 13, 2019 09:28 PM
After back-to-back losses for the first time since UAAP Season 76, the UP Fighting Maroons are in unfamiliar territory
When University of the Philippines lost to De La Salle University roughly a week ago, it was the first time in a remarkable 16 matches that the defending champion Fighting Maroons tasted defeat, with their last loss coming in the UAAP Season 79 Men's Football Semifinals.
Three days later, UP was back on the pitch, and with the level of play that the Fighting Maroons have shown in the past seasons, it was safe to assume that they would manage to bounce back.
Instead, against the red-hot Far Eastern University Tamaraws, UP suffered a second-consecutive loss.
The last time that UP lost back-to-back matches was back in UAAP Season 76, when they opened the tournament with losses against University of the East and DLSU.
It's safe to say that back-to-back losses is unfamiliary territory for the Fighting Maroons, who have won two of the last three UAAP Mens' Football Championships, and for head coach Anto Gonzales, it's simply a case of not performing up to the team's capabilities.
"We’re really underperforming, that’s a fact, and I think one aspect that I think is lacking - I think individually, we have a strong squad - but I don’t feel how the seniors are really affecting the performance of the other players. I don’t think we’re getting the best out of our players," Gonzales told ABS-CBN Sports.
Last season's magical ending for the Fighting Maroons also marked the end of the UAAP careers of a number of players instrumental to their two title runs, among them star defender and former team captain Ian Clarino and goalkeeper Ace Villanueva.
With their departure, the leadership roles now fall on the shoulders of the new seniors of the team, but Gonzales feels that his elder statesmen, so to say, have not been able to serve as an influence to the squad, who currently sit at six points off two wins in four matches played so far.
"The role of the seniors, especially team captains, it’s very important in really uplifting every player, making sure that every player, once they get on that pitch, is able to really contribute," Gonzales explained. "I think we’re in search of that person or players that can really lead this team and influence the players in a positive way. I think that’s one thing that we’re missing right now and personally, as a coach, I think we probably overlooked."
Still, the veteran mentor and former National Team member isn't about to push the panic button just yet.
"That’s one thing we’re really gonna try to work on and develop. It’s still early in the season, there should be time."
In their first two outings, which were back-to-back wins over National University and Ateneo de Manila, the reigning kings of UAAP football looked like they were primed to show just why they were the defending champions, but for Gonzales, the two opening wins weren't even a display of just how good he believes this UP team can be.
"I think was just a matter of results. Performance-wise, we haven’t been playing at our best, to be honest. The first two games, even if we won, we didn’t really play very well. We didn’t play up to our standards, up to our best, I don’t think were able to get the best out of every player."
"The La Salle game, I think that was our best game yet, even if we lost, but we had some lapses. This game, I think we went back down. We haven’t played our best all season," he continued.
One other thing that has been unusual with UP's season so far is that, save for the win over Ateneo, the Maroons have found themselves being the first to concede a goal, and Gonzales touched on the defensive line as a focal point for improvement moving forward.
"We are playing makeshift defenders, we lost Ian from last year, Miggy [Clarino] is still learning, so that’s one key area that we need to improve on."
Gonzales also noted that with the loss of Season 80 Rookie of the Year Fidel Tacardon, the Maroons have been somewhat struggling on the offensive end as well. Last year, Tacardon was one of Gonazles' guns on scoring, providing a boost to the already-potent attacking tandem of King Miyagi and JB Borlongan.
"Next is the creativity on the attacking end. We lost Fidel, who was very influential in our attack last year. We need to find ways to be more of a threat in the attack, that’s the main, and I think we’ve been working on that since Fidel got injured. Hopefully it will bear fruit slowly, and we will progress as the season goes on."
The main issue however, remains to be the presence of a leader on the pitch, and Gonzales shared that after the loss to FEU, it was the message that he wanted to get across to his wards.
"I think our approach is always to keep on challenging, and after this game, the main message to them was the leadership role. We need influential players, that’s the main thing. We need players inside whom the other teammates listen to, whom the other teammates will work hard for, will fight for that ball for. Hopefully that’s what we can improve in the succeeding games."
Up next for the Fighting Maroons will be a finals rematch against Universty of Santo Tomas, who have been vocal about their desire to exact revenge on their Season 80 Finals tormentors. UP and UST battle on Thursday afternoon at the FEU Diliman Football Field in Quezon City.