Another championship quest begins for the DLSU Football Team as the second half of the UAAP kicks off this February, with the UP Fighting Maroons and Lady Maroons set to defend their respective titles this coming season. La Salle claimed podium finishes in the last season of the UAAP Football Tournament, with the women’s team ending its campaign in second place, while the men’s team landed in third. Not wanting to dwell on the past, both teams will aim to improve on last year’s heartbreaking results and win their respective divisions.
Intact roster for the women’s XI
Reigning Best Goalkeeper in the women’s division Inna Palacios notes that the team did not lose any player to graduation. She also points out that there are no additions to the team. With this in mind, Palacios calls the Taft-based squad blessed for being able to remain together for almost two years, promising to use the team’s cohesion to its advantage. “It’s the exact same team so I think that’s what we’re trying to work on.”
The women’s team will rely on last season’s UAAP Best Defender Regine Metillo to anchor its defense. Sara Castaneda, who was awarded Best Midfielder, Rookie of the Year (ROY), and co-Golden Boot winner, will again be a vital cog in the Lasallians’ campaign. Unfortunately, Castaneda’s co-recipient of the Golden Boot Award, Shannon Arthur will be out this season due to an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury. Nevertheless, Kyra Dimaandal has taken over the responsibilities of the striker. Dimaandal showed her worth in the preseason in the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) Women’s League. She is currently the top scorer of the tournament with nine goals.
Other notable players who are coming off injury are Christine Duran, Tashka Lacson, and Palacios. Although Palacios just recovered from her injury, Coach Hans Smit wanted her to be 100 percent fit before considering her for the starting lineup. “She’s been training but she’s only about 75 percent, not even 100 percent because of her injury, so I don’t want to risk it. Until we finish the UAAP, I’m not giving her any starting opportunities because I want my team to be healthy. Too many injuries already.”
Meanwhile, Lacson will also be out this year to give way to the graduating goalkeepers of the team, Palacios and Erika Turtur. Despite the situation, Smit made sure to still give her exposure and training. She is currently on loan to Green Archers United FC.
Preparing for the season
La Salle is currently the first seed of the PFF Women’s League with six wins in as many games. The tournament will go on a three-month break to make way for the UAAP.
Even after an upsetting loss against the Lady Maroons last season, the Lasallians did not think that the Katipunan-based squad would be their biggest challenge, but rather, themselves. According to team captain Meryll Ledesma, there is really no team to beat as every game poses a unique challenge. Instead, the members of the Green-and-White will focus on improving their individual skills and team chemistry throughout the competition.
High hopes for the men’s team
The last two seasons for the men’s team ended in heartbreaks. They lost to the FEU Tamaraws in the Finals last 2015. Just last year, they also lost a semifinal penalty shootout to archrivals, the ADMU Blue Eagles.
Looking to redeem themselves this season, team captain Iñigo Gonzales is hopeful that they can beat all teams with a reasonable score and show the other teams that they are a force to be reckoned with. Paeng De Guzman, last season’s Best Goalkeeper, and Noel Brago will anchor the defense of the team this season. Reigning ROY Jed Diamante will now lead the midfield this season after La Salle lost Greggy Yang and Jojo Borromeo to graduation.
Although the team lost three vital seniors, including Gerald Layumas, for the upcoming season, Smit’s rookies are ready to step up. Gonzales gave praise to Matt Custodio, Paeng Siggaoat and Chris Lawless who all showed promise in the UniGames. He gave further detail on Custodio as he had first-hand experience on playing with him even prior to his stint with DLSU. They were once teammates in the national team and Gonzales described him as a powerful striker with a good technique.
With the leading scorer from last season gone, the Green-and-White is hopeful that Custodio will be ready to help fill the boots vacated by Yang. “Since no one has noticed how he played yet in the UAAP, he would get the goals because of the surprise tactic that we have,” he says. He also shared that Christian Zubiri, who did not receive much playing time, will now receive more opportunities as a result from his promising performance in the preseason.
Gelo Diamante, last year’s team captain and the team’s second leading goal scorer, initially decided to forego his fifth playing year. His return will give La Salle an instrumental boost. Gonzales mentions that he was previously convincing Diamante to stay and find a way to play one more year. “When I lost him, it was basically losing a brother-in-arms because we would always lead the team together.”
Gearing up for the season
The men’s XI finished second place in the UniGames behind the Fighting Maroons. Gonzales stated that it was a good wake-up call because they were able to find their rhythm and reach the Finals despite missing out Custodio and G. Diamante due to enrollment. Smit downplayed the team’s performance because he said that friendlies do not properly gauge a team’s strength. “Friendlies are just to see, and you know, just to experiment with the line-up, experiment with the tactics,” he states. Smit adds that he adapted his system and experimented with tactics during the preseason.
Gonzales also gave his take on the upcoming UAAP season. He said that the Fighting Maroons will be the team to beat because of their quality program and talented coach and players. According to the midfielder, Daniel Gadia of UP, who was also their high school rival, will be a player to watch out for.
Smit hopes that the events from last season will not get into the heads of his players from both teams. “You learn from your mistakes, you learn from weaknesses that led to your downfall, and you try to improve on that. We don’t dwell, I don’t dwell on the past. We had a chance, we didn’t take it, so what else is there to do but just to improve ourselves.”
The men’s team will open its season versus UP on Saturday, February 4, at 4 pm. As of press time, in the women’s division, La Salle and UP will open their respective campaigns on February 18, at 6 pm.
With weekend fixtures set to be played in the Rizal Memorial Stadium, Gonzales called upon the members of the Lasallian community for their support. The veteran concludes, saying, “We really need your support because the past two years the support you’ve given us has pushed us all the way to the Finals and semifinals.”