“It’s a historic moment,” gushed Philippine Football Federation President Mariano V. Araneta during the contract signing between the AKTV and the United Football League Friday at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel in Mandaluyong City. “This was a long time coming and it can only mean well for football.”
The five-year contract signed by both parties guaranteed that two live UFL matches will be shown every Saturday beginning October 8, 2011 on AKTV with the televised matches played at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium and non-televised games played at the University of Makati.
“What this gives Filipino football players and clubs all over the country is a chance to continue playing the sport they love even after their college playing years,” said Santi Araneta, chairman of Football Alliance which organizes the UFL. “It gives them a platform to showcase their talent not just to the country but who knows – it might lead to a stint in the national team.”
Former national player Alvin Ocampo, who now works as an assistant coach in Pachanga FC, said that the quality of football played in the country has grown by leaps and bounds with the influx of foreign talent as well as the exposure of locals to international tournaments. “This is a good time to be playing football,” said Ocampo, the son of the late Olympian Ed Ocampo who was once named Mr. Basketball and Mr. Football.
The season kicks off with the UFL Cup where 28 teams, including 13 guest squads, will compete for slots in the UFL’s Division II.
The press conference also featured the draw where clubs were seeded into a group stage for the UFL Cup. The seeding results are as follows:
Group A: Nomads FC, Baguio FC, Union Internacional FC, Lions FC
Group B: Loyola Meralco Sparks FC, Internacionale FC, Agila FC, Team Socceroo FC
Group C: Global FC, Pachanga FC, Stallions FC, Cebu Queen City FC
Group D: Kaya-Cignal FC, ABC Stars FC, Schwarz, Diliman Victory Liner FC
Group E: Philippine Air Force FC, Philippine Navy FC, Manila All-Japan FC, Laos FC
Group F: Green Archers United FC, Dolphins United FC, Pasargad FC, Forza FC
Group G: Philippine Army FC, Manhur FC, Sunken Garden United FC, and Garuda FC PH
Tournament Committee Member Chris Hagedorn labeled Group C as the “Group of Death” as it features three teams – Global FC, Pachanga, and Stallions FC – that made the semifinals of the recently concluded Smart Club Championships.
“It’s going to be interesting because you have two tough Metro Manila teams (Global and Pachanga) and two very good provincial teams (Stallions, an Iloilo-based eleven, and Queen City FC, which is from Cebu) who are rivals themselves. That bears a lot of watching.” said Hagedorn.
In the UFL Cup, the top two teams of each group as well as the top two third-place teams advance to the Round of 16. The survivors are then pitted in the quarterfinals and semifinals until the last two remaining teams battle it out for the Cup. The third and fourth place teams will also figure in a one-game match for the Plate Winner.
Heading into the third season of the UFL, there will be some new faces in different clubs.
National team mainstays Phil and James Younghusband will be playing for Loyola Sparks FC along with another set of brothers who are former national teammates in Mark and Matthew Hartmann.
The Azkals’ Fil-Spanish striker Angel Guirado and Fil-Iranian Misagh Bahadoran will be donning the colors of Global FC.
Kaya FC will have Aly Borromeo, Anton del Rosario, Jason Sabio, Yannick Tuason, and Nate Burkey in uniform.
Philippine Air Force FC has scoring threats Chieffy Caligdong and Ian Araneta in harness while rival Philippine Army FC features Roel Gener and Nestor Margarse.
The UFL Cup will also have an interesting mix of Ghanaian, Sudanese, British, Malaysian, Indonesian, Spanish, and Dutch players.