The Philippine PFF Women’s Cup 2015: Season Two.
The PFF Women’s Cup which serves as the Philippine Football Federation’s domestic tournament for top women’s teams in the country had just completed its run for the year a few weeks ago.
Established only last year, the biggest change in this edition is the formal transition to an 11-a-side tournament compared to the previous year’s 9-a-side. This year all teams from the very competitive collegiate league were complete for the Cup: champions Far Eastern University (FEU), Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), University of Santo Tomas (UST), University of the Philippines (UP) and lastly, De La Salle University (DLSU), who were absent last year. UP broke up to two teams for this Cup (UP-X and UP-Y), and the four other teams are semi-pro clubs Green Archers United FC (GAU FC), Sikat FC, Lady Tamaraw FC and Chelsea FC Soccer School Philippines.
National Team representation
Most players from the current Philippine national team pool participated in the Cup along with many former players. DLSU had five players including top keeper and captain Inna Palacios, Irish Navaja, Kyla Inquig, Regine Metillo and Sara Castañeda. FEU had three in Alesa Dolino, Sharmine Siaotong and Jean Kadil, with youth national team coach Let Dimzon serving as their playing-coach. Green Archers United had four: Pearl Aguilar, Haya Ibarra, Marianne Narciso and Martie Plaza. They also had former national team captain Marielle Benitez and Belay Fernando in their ranks, plus another youth national team coach Joyce Landagan. Sikat FC had veterans Natasha Alquiros, Aiza Mondero and recent WNT defender turned assistant coach Patrice Impelido. UST had Jennizel Cabalan and Rachelle Labajo. UP-X had the Navea-Huff sisters Marie and Kali, Mary Rose Obra and Nic Adlawan. UP-Y had Monica Manalansan and recent WNT striker Cristina de los Reyes. The others had at least one active WNT member: ADMU’s Nona Amoncio, Lady Tamaraw FC’s Analou Amita, and finally, Chelsea FC SS Ladies’ Mea Bernal.
Green Archers United FC opened the tournament with a bang when they upended defending champions and collegiate titans Far Eastern University 1-0. This turned out to be a very good omen for them as they had an incredible showing for the rest of the tournament. FEU would later shrug off the opening day disappointment when they bounced back with a 4-0 rout of Ateneo. La Salle also had an auspicious start with a 6-1 drubbing of last year’s finalists Chelsea FC SS. University of Santo Tomas joined the proceedings late but were also impressive. At the last day of eliminations, it came down to a battle of youth versus experience between Ateneo and GAU FC both of which had a shot at the last four with a win. Ateneo prevailed 2-1 halting GAU FC’s great run. The teams that were through to the knockout round were all collegiate teams: FEU and Ateneo from Group A, La Salle and UST from Group B. The semifinal matchups boasted some old-school rivalries in FEU versus UST and Ateneo versus La Salle, especially. Out of all the teams at the end of the group stage, La Salle and UST were the only undefeated teams, their only draw being the one where they played each other.
Highlights of the games are available here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFAwG55JxdYE5uJAJ5nhYrkTLZrfLes73
Race for the Golden Boot
Before the final match day, the leading goal scorer was Barbie Sobredo of FEU with 6 goals. This was followed by a teammate Jovelle Sudaria and Chelo Hodges of La Salle with 4 goals each. After them were Kyra Dimaandal, another player from La Salle, and Marianne Narciso of GAU FC, both with 3 goals. Narciso’s case was pretty remarkable when the national team striker shot up the rankings because of a hat-trick in one game (against UP-Y), the only one for the entire tournament.
Here’s the final tally at the end of the Cup:
Barbie Sobredo, FEU – 7 goals
Chelo Hodges, DLSU – 4 goals
Jovelle Sudaria, FEU – 4 goals
Jennizel Cabalan, UST – 3 goals
Kyra Dimaandal, DLSU – 3 goals
Charisa Lemoran, UST – 3 goals
Marianne Narciso, GAU FC – 3 goals
Camille Rodriguez, ADMU – 3 goals
FEU reign on
The first semifinal was a pretty straightforward affair when FEU overwhelmed UST 3-0, a top strike from Sudaria and a brace from Sobredo. Bad weather foiled UST’s effective passing game in which pools of water on the turf disrupted their play, while FEU adapted to the conditions better. The second semifinal was a much tighter contest between two teams whose respective institutions have a well-known history of bitter rivalries: Ateneo and La Salle. With either team determined to win, it would take a very late goal in the final three minutes to determine a winner, scored coolly by La Salle’s leading striker Hodges on a one-on-one with the keeper. FEU and La Salle were the jubilant victors for the day but UST and Ateneo had consolation in a play-off for third place.
Nobody expected the drama on the final match day of the Cup. First up was the bronze medal game between UST and Ateneo: a 4-3 goal-fest where Ateneo went ahead first, played catch up and willed themselves the winning goal through their leading scorer Cam Rodriguez, all while losing two of their starting keepers which forced a field player to stand in goal. They were without their head coach too, with team manager Gely Tiu stepping in and coaching for the first time in her life.
Drama was on hand for the title match as well. Here were La Salle, a team that had not been in the finals of any tournament in the last two years, facing multi-champions of the past few years FEU. Both teams were led by solid members of the national team: starting keeper and captain Inna Palacios for La Salle, and Alesa Dolino, the breakout player from the last international campaign and reigning MVP in both the Cup and the collegiate wars. Both teams were coached by two of the game’s imposing figures: FEU’s Let Dimzon, coach of the silver-winning AFC U-14 Philippine team, and the outspoken Hans-Peter Smit of DLSU who also coaches the men’s team. Some argue that La Salle had the momentum going into the match buoyed by their hard-fought semifinal win. Both teams had very good chances of scoring early, but La Salle had the edge and their pressure caught FEU on the back foot. The large crowd in the bleachers seemed to be behind them too. Then the rain happened. Hard, torrential rain. The game was halted, but the rain kept pouring. It flooded the pitch and the dugouts. The game was called off, the final washed out, it had to be continued on another day. That day was a much sunnier one, and scheduled a lot earlier to avoid the rainy afternoon. Too early for some as the stadium was nearly empty compared to the crowd from the other night. Something felt off with resuming a game from the minute it stopped (32nd) a week before, and it would prove off for La Salle indeed. Right from the opening minute, FEU scored to finally break the deadlock off a stunning Dolino freekick Palacios could not keep out. Sobredo doubled FEU’s lead later on. DLSU on the chase managed a free kick goal of their own from Regine Metillo. But it was too late and FEU would defend their title.
FEU, as winners of the PFF Women’s Cup, are reportedly set to join an international four-team tournament hosted by the Vietnam Football Federation in November.
Here’s how the league table looks at the end of the tournament:
Media’s Choice for Best XI + Honorary Mentions
Beautiful Game, Beautiful Story
Irish Navaja of the national team and DLSU, who was named the tournament’s best midfielder, shared a very special moment with her ailing mother during the Cup final. More on the story here. Navaja’s DLSU squadmates quickly shrugged off the sting of defeat and sprung into action in response to their teammate’s plea, asking for donations on her behalf. Then her story spread and the local football community got involved as well.
Pinay Futbol, the group the PFF tasked with promoting the league, spearheaded a campaign encouraging good sportsmanship among players in the Philippine women’s football community. The brainchild of Haya Ibarra, a national team keeper and captain of GAU FC who also happened to be a member of Pinay Futbol—the campaign mainly entailed opposing teams posing together for a group photo after a game which will then be posted online with the hashtag #WePlayTogetherPH. The move encouraged them to mingle with players from the other team, check up on them to show how there are no hard feelings and how everything should be fine between them when the game’s over. FIFA as well as women’s football VIP Moya Dodd took interest in the campaign and shared Pinay Futbol’s tweet on their respective social media accounts (@FIFAWWC and @moyadodd). GAU FC took the initiative not only because most of their members were also part of Pinay Futbol, but because their team itself epitomized the campaign being a squad made up of former players from different schools. But the campaign really took off when players started forming groups on their own like mini reunions of sorts to catch up with old friends and teammates and proudly taking photos together in spite of any existing rivalry between their current teams. One student-athlete even admitted that this would never happen in the collegiate tournament (UAAP). Some photos went viral in the football community that highlighted the fiercest of these school rivalries: Ateneo and La Salle—when they faced each other in a hard-fought semifinal, a dejected forward from the losing team (Ateneo) gets picked up and comforted by a defender from the winning team (La Salle), turns out they were close childhood friends and still are. After the final game of the tournament, a big group photo was taken of all teams present to drive home the strongest message of the campaign: ten teams, one nation. How the community should be united to grow the game together, for their sake, and for the sake of the young girls that will come after them.
“The whole tournament is nice and very good. Actually, it should be the whole year round and not for just two months. We really have to promote the women’s game. Even if the tournament was rushed, so many teams want to join. Look at Chelsea, GAU, Sikat—these are club teams, most of the players are working, but look at their performance compared to the teams that are training almost every day. So you can really see that the girls, the ladies, they really want this league. And thank you so much for making this league, thank you.” — Jojo Durian (Manager, Chelsea FC SS)
In retrospect, the PFF Women’s Cup isn’t that far from the other domestic leagues worldwide in terms of professionalism and media coverage. Even the top leagues still have some hiccups in these areas including officiating. Everything is a work in progress. The number of teams per league is pretty much the same, somewhere around 10-12, BUT they have lower divisions and different tiers where teams get relegated and promoted. They also have a lot more games. It would be nice if from single-round group games, the PFF Cup goes double round-robin to eventually all teams playing each other twice as one big group. Also noticed how there are two types of tournament in each federation or country: league-type (round robin, with the champion determined through accumulated points) and cup (knockout format with a wider field including more amateur teams, the top teams distributed among quadrants). Hopefully the PFF gets to this point. Ideally the league must cover as many regions in the country as possible since at the moment all teams are based in and the games held at the nation’s capital: Manila. However, it is significant to note that in terms of talent, the UAAP teams boast the best from these other regions through their recruitment programs. In order to be a fully functioning league, sponsorships are also very important, with each team being sustained by corporate sponsors giving ample salaries to their players. The Philippines still has some ways of getting there, but it is still only starting out after all. Hopefully with some luck, it will.
Photo Credits: PFF, Pinay Futbol, PWNT, Brosi Gonzales, Tessa Bernardo, Tiebreaker Times
Big fan of Nadeshiko Japan followed by the French Les Bleues and Danish WNT. Big advocate of women’s sports. Doing all I can for the Philippine WNT and Philippine women’s football/Pinay Futbol!