The DLSU Men’s Football Team closed its UAAP Season 79 campaign with disappointment as it landed in sixth place and clinched four General Championship points for the Green-and-White. With a record of four wins, four draws, and six losses, this season marked the first time that La Salle missed the football Final Four since its inception in Season 75.
Despite picking up pace in the second round, the Lasallians were unable to stage a comeback in their chase for a spot in the Final Four. DLSU failed to secure a win from eventual semifinalists, the UP Fighting Maroons, ADMU Blue Eagles, and UST Growling Tigers, during the second stage of the elimination round which served as crucial games that led the Green-and-White to a premature exit.
La Salle ended the first round with one win, two draws, and four losses, clinching its only win over the UE Red Warriors. The Green-and-White drew against the defending champions UP, as well as UST, but lost consecutively with a scoreline of 1-0 in their matches versus ADMU, the AdU Soaring Falcons, and FEU Tamaraws.
An exception, though, was its its last match in the first round against the NU Bulldogs who came from behind to defeat La Salle, 3-1. Co-captain Noel Brago explained after their last game of the first round that these simple mistakes tend to instantaneously change the teams play. “Puro lapses kami since nung Ateneo game namin. Puro one error tapos bibigay kami.” (We’ve been having lapses since the game versus Ateneo. We commit one error and eventually end up giving in.)
Head coach Hans Smit of La Salle reshuffled his starting line-up throughout the opening round in an attempt to change the team’s momentum. “They’re not moving, nawawala yung killer instinct. They don’t want to win, so I had to make some changes,” he said early on in the season.
The second round came out differently as the Lasallians dictated its first four matches. La Salle earned wins at the expense of AdU, UE, and NU and came out even against FEU and UST in its final match of the season. However, they fell at the hands of the top two contenders, UP and ADMU, with a scoreline of 2-1 and 2-0, respectively, ending the elimination round with only 16 points coming from four wins, four draws, and six losses.
The Green-and-White played its last match of the season against the Growling Tigers at the Moro Lorenzo Football Field in Ateneo. Smit decided to include all four graduating seniors, Nace Gonzales, Gelo Diamante, Jose Montelibano, and Jhoguev Ybanez, in the starting eleven in what was their last game in the UAAP for the Green-and-White. Gonzales started the match with the captain’s armband but eventually gave it to Diamante at the start of the second half as it represented how the both of them led the team together in the last two years. Like how it started its campaign, DLSU concluded its season with a goalless draw.
“This team now is officially disbanded, so everybody starts from scratch again,” Smit boldly declared after the last game of the season. He further stressed that the match versus UST was the first day of tryouts for the non-seniors and that supporters will probably see a different lineup for next season. Gonzales, who rotates the captain’s armband with defender Brago, shared the long-time mentor was working on getting a quick tryout to get the necessary players for next season.
When asked about his assessment for the entire season, Smit said, “Worst. Worst in my career. La Salle [has] never, never reached number six. And then, this is the first time also that we never reached the top four since its inception.”
The four graduating fifth year players also shared their own thoughts on the season. Gonzales explained that the season could have gone better. “It is what it is. Minor lapses in crucial games.” The veteran winger also explained how it can become a stepping stone for the remaining players especially now that four seniors won’t be around to guide them next season. “We try to instill to them the La Salle pride, La Salle spirit, so hopefully, in next the years to come, they’re able to bounce back.”
Montelibano also echoed his captain’s words. “I guess we could’ve performed better. We didn’t perform to what people expected us to play, and basically, there’s a lot of things we need to work on.” He also stressed that it is time to rebuild the team, and that the rookies have a lot of potential. As for his parting message for his teammates, he said, “Make the most out of every game because you never know when it’s gonna be your last, and you can’t take every minute for granted.”
Diamante also agreed with what Gonzales and Montelibano stated, but shared that there is still much to gain from the situation. “The most to gain after this season are the lessons we learned and the experiences we obtained so that we can be better in the future and whatever we’ll do.” He said that he has no regrets for this season and will just charge everything to experience. Like Montelibano, the Ateneo De Davao alumnus also concluded by telling his younger brother Jed to lead the team to the championship next year.
Although Ybanez thought that the team could have prepared more for the season and that some players could have made a greater impact, he continued to look at the positives.
“Di naman, panalo pa rin naman. Di naman nasusukat yung panalo sa trophy eh. Yung friendship namin lumalakas, yung bond ng team. Tawagan namin, family.” He concluded by giving a message to the remaining players. “Ipagpatuloy na lang nila yung sinimulan namin this year.”
(It’s still a victory. Winning is not measured by a trophy. Our friendships got stronger, the bond of our team grew. We call it family. [To the holdovers,] continue what we started this year.)
With the conclusion of the elimination round, the stage is set for the Final Four of the men’s football tournament with the Blue Eagles, Fighting Maroons, Tamaraws, and Growling Tigers still in contention for the championship.