Since its first season in 2017, the Philippine Football League (PFL) has showcased the top football talent that the country has to offer. The league announced that it will kick off its 2021 season on September 25 after its 2020 season was delayed for seven months.
Former DLSU Men’s Football players Matthew Nierras, and Nathan Alquiros of Stallions Laguna FC, and Mauro Acot of Dynamic Herb Cebu FC shared their thoughts with The LaSallian on the challenges of the upcoming season and the significance of the league’s opening.
Limitations of the pandemic
Social distancing protocols affected the nation’s athletes for the worse, rendering squads unable to train together in person. With football being a team sport, this inevitably makes it difficult for players to maintain the level of performance they aim for.
Nierras talks about the importance of training and being ready to play in the top-flight league. “For any football player—actually for any athlete—if you don’t train, especially at a certain level, after maybe two, three days, your fitness goes down a lot…So not being able to run, not being able to play with the ball is a huge difference on players.”
Regardless of what the situation brings, the three shed light on their responsibility as professional footballers. Nierras stresses the importance of doing what one can with the limitations imposed by the pandemic. “Everyone’s trying to stay as fit as possible. As much as possible, you’re trying to stay fit, you’re trying to run, so at least once we get clearance to start training again, at least it’s not from zero, like from straight zero.”
Meanwhile, Alquiros shares, “Independently, you just have to be disciplined everyday, [and] train everyday.” The midfielder furthers, ”You have to think of your endurance, your strengthening, and your touches with the ball. Since you’re a football player, getting touches with the ball is very important.”
Entering his debut season, midfielder Acot highlights his focus on challenging himself. “My personal agenda is just really to be better than who I was yesterday. That starts by training the mind first thing in the morning by refocusing and realigning where I am and where I should be, then my body will follow through the training and all.”
Getting ready for battle
Compared to the bubble set-up last year, league officials announced that the 2021 season will be conducted in a “home-venue-home” format.
As the PFL nears its season opener, teams have been making the necessary adjustments to address the strength and conditioning of players. “We’re focusing more on getting fitness for the first few training sessions because they know everyone has just been training on their own, so it’s different [with] meshing together as a team,” Alquiros explains.
Training virtually challenges the coherence and consistency of a squad, making their determination and discipline more crucial as this can translate into balanced teamwork on the field.
“The team is set to go further and push local football, especially the Cebuano community, to newer heights,” Acot mentions on his team’s mindset. With the hardships a team faces, it is pivotal that they enter into a new season with a united and committed mentality. As the tournament progresses, their chemistry and trust with one another allows them to persevere in attaining their ultimate goal—a championship.
Whole new game
Acot says, “For a league to keep on growing, changes must occur and such right ones can make history for the rest of the country.” The PFL plans to increase the number of participating teams to ramp up the competition among accomplished veterans and excited newcomers.
With players hailing from provinces across the country, Nierras believes that the addition of teams will benefit the tournament, “It’s nice because when you have teams like that, there are those ‘hidden gem’ kind of players, and players who I haven’t seen and played against yet.”
The much-awaited thrill of competing once again is music to the ears of these football players. After multiple delays, they are more than eager to showcase their skill and talent in front of their opponents and anticipating fans.
Raising the bar
The three agree that the PFL is essential for football’s growth in the Philippines. Nierras states that the league is “something that a lot of players should look forward to” as this opens up the opportunity for them to dream of playing in their own country’s professional league.
Alquiros feels optimistic about the direction that Philippine football is heading in. “It’s slowly growing. The pandemic is just hindering it, but the league is doing very well for the players, and it is helping them, helping our country grow in the sport.”