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Ateneo and La Salle football: Unfinished business

By Rick Olivares, Videos courtesy of Rick Olivares

Some things end not the way you expect it and yet you manage a smile if only for the good endings.
Some things end not the way you expect it and it leaves you shaking your head in disbelief and asking, “What went wrong?”
It has been a bewildering season for the Ateneo Blue Eagles on the football field. They lost RS Mantos for several games due to his anger management problem and as a result they fitted in two other goalkeepers (Joel Faustino and Yu Murayama) to stem the tide (as they conceded a bushel-load of goals). They did play well on occasion and dominated some of the tougher competition only to lose in the endgame. But in the end, the Blue Booters chalked up three wins – one against UE and two against La Salle, avenging a three-year streak of futility against their ancient foe.
For the Green Archers, it was another frustrating season. They have a talented and deep lineup with many of them making a good account of themselves during the past summer’s Under-23 tournament as well as in the UFL. And then there was the University Games where they beat tournament favorite University of St. La Salle to win the title. While they were expected to give UST and UP a tough fight for the coveted men’s football crown, Ateneo stood in their way. Twice.
After the boys in blue picked up a 1-0 win over UE, they succumbed to a series of disappointing and crippling loses that saw them alternating with the Red Warriors for the infamy of being the cellar dweller.
The boys in green in the meantime succumbed to four consecutive draws and needed a win against Ateneo to get back in contention.
Unfortunately, this was a different Ateneo team that was unlike the troubled squads of the past few years that was lacking in talent and resolve.
In the first meeting that closed out the first round action, Ateneo dominated the field of play and earned a 1-0 win.
That was the win that was supposed to turn Ateneo’s season around. Instead, they were ambushed by a pair of 2-0 loses to UP and UST. And then they even spotted FEU with a one goal lead before conceding two goals in a galling defeat. UE even repaid them in spades with a 1-0 win. And the final game against La Salle was – you can say – to avoid finishing dead last for the second time in the past three years.
The loss to Ateneo threw La Salle momentarily out of the orbit of competing for the top two spots. With every passing match, it became more obvious that their confidence and morale had greatly waned. The good cheer brought about by the Unigames titled was a forgotten memory. They lost defender Miguel Montelibano before the UAAP season began to academics as well as Kaman Suleiman at the start of the tourney to a knee injury. Starting keeper Patrick Deyto, the best goalkeeper of a year ago, was oft moody and lacking in his trademark fire and the team suffered for it. But the Green Archers managed to right their ship and got back within three points and a prayer of catching that last seat to the finals.
Yet once more, Ateneo was in the way. As it was in the first meeting between the two teams, the boys from Loyola dominated and showed excellent play in the midfield behind veteran James Arco, freshman Mikko Mabanag who was brilliant in his feeding the ball to his forwards, and senior Anton Amistoso who was terrific in a holding midfield position.
If Mabanag was solid in Ateneo’s midfield, La Salle threatened with Nathan Alquiros’ play from the left flank. But the Blue Booter’s defense was difficult to crack as they repulsed one La Salle sortie after another.
Yet for all of Ateneo’s dominance, the decision making in their finishing left much to be desired. When they needed to cross the ball, they sent it several seconds too late or passed it back. When they needed a fast play, they took their time and allowed La Salle’s defense to take shape.
La Salle was able to adjust and force the ball away from Mabanag in the early goings of the second half, but when Ateneo’s defense held, the home side quickly regained the initiative with Mabanag once more the maestro in the midfield.
In the 71st minute, a cross by Kurt Alvarez cut right through the heart of La Salle’s defense. Amistoso swopped in and banged in the goal past keeper Josh Reyes, his second of the season (also against La Salle) for what would be the only score of the match. Alvarez, who had come back this season because of what he said was "unfinished business" nearly doubled the lead but his strike went – incredibly – wide.
At fulltime, the boys in blue whooped it up and closed out the season with a resounding singing of the alma mater song. There were mixed feelings especially among the graduating seniors. The ultimate goal – to win a title – was not attained. It was a roller coaster season with damning lows and with good highs. They ended years of La Salle domination and once more derailed their title dreams. So they managed a smile and hearty laughs.
The boys in green gathered on the opposite side, struggling to hold their heads high while holding back the tears. As La Salle sputtered during the season, there was talk or even threat of a day of reckoning (of changes). As they forlornly trudged back to the bench, there were none of the words of anger or encouragement that wafted about their bench through nine games. Their collective silence and going different ways said it all.
As the final football matches of the day got underway, Ateneo’s Kurt Alvarez for a moment stewed on whether he was coming back or not for one more go around. The time away from the team helped in a more mature look at the game. “it’s all about unfinished business,” he said. He did score the first goal of his college career against FEU after a sterling stint with the Ateneo high school team. “But is it really?”
That and many others will be answered months from now.embed code for video #2

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