As a provincial team, Division Two squad Cebu Queen City United faces a logistical nightmare every week during the United Football League season: The team has to fly from Cebu to Manila just to play their matches.
Despite this backbreaking hurdle, the team still managed to finish third in Division Two, behind champion Pachanga and runner-up Diliman Victory Liner.
The Cebuanos actually fly to Manila on the day of the game itself, with little time to get themselves in game mode.
“It’s a matter of adjustment lang,” said United coach Mario Ceniza. “Between staying overnight and staying two hours before the game, mas nakakabuti yung sa mismong araw na lang.”
But even Ceniza admits that there are dangers to this setup. Last May 12, the team’s flight was delayed, and the Cebuanos arrived at the venue barely an hour before their 2 p.m. kickoff against Union Internacional Manila.
“Andun na kami ng 1 p.m., pero ‘di pa nakakain yung mga bata. Eh mag-pe-prepare pa ,” said Ceniza.
Cebu Queen City found itself in an early 2-0 hole. But the Cebuanos fought back, tying the match before halftime, and ending the match on a 4-4 draw.
Open to foreign players
With most UFL teams signing up Azkals stars and foreign players, Cebu Queen City’s lineup may pale in comparison.
“Kami lang ang wala masyadong star players unlike the other teams,” Ceniza said, as the team boasts of an all-Filipino squad mostly based in Cebu.
But Ceniza admitted that with the team’s current lineup, some help may be needed for the team to achieve its goal of promotion to Division One. The team, he said, is open to hiring foreign players to bolster their squad.
“I have to be practical, kung ‘di ka talaga kumuha ng better players, mag-stay ka dyan sa second division,” he said. “The good thing is, may go signal na to beef up the team with foreigners.
“We have to be honest with ourselves. If we really want to play in the first division, we really have to get good players.”
But Ceniza remains proud of the achievement of his players. After all, they became one of the best teams in the division with their current lineup.
Ceniza credits the success of his team to the hard work of his players, led by 19-year-old Dan Villarico, the team’s leading goal scorer. The teenager juggles his time between football and school, which he attends courtesy of a scholarship from the team.
“Mahirap, pero kumukuha ako ng schedule na lahat ng klase ko sa hapon lang,” said Villarico, a second-year business administration student at University of Visayas. “Nagbabasa ako habang nagpapahinga, multi-tasking na lang.”
The team practices from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., and Villarico admits that the schedule can be overwhelming. But he is determined to finish his studies despite the lure of the beautiful game.
“Yung football, andyan naman yan e. Pero yung pag-aaral, di ka naman laging bata e,” Villarico said. “Kaya pinipilit kong makatapos.”
Like Villarico, goalkeeper Charles Villarta is also a scholar at United. The youngest in a brood of eight, he left his family in Cagayan de Oro City for the opportunity to study and play in Cebu.
“Pinili kong magstay ng Cebu kasi sayang naman yung scholarship,” said Villarta, a junior Business Administration student at the University of Cebu.
Villarta, who stays in an apartment in Cebu together with some teammates, said he aces his subjects despite the football demands.
“Bayad na lang samin na mga nag-aral, pinapakita namin yung best namin,” Villarta said. “Kung makakaya namin na ‘di basta passed lang (gagawin namin).
Despite being a football club and not a varsity team, Ceniza said that United management is monitoring the grades of its student-players. Although they are not that strict, he added that their failure to do well in school may also put their spot in the team in peril.
“After every semester, chine-check namin yung mga grades nila kung wala bang failures,” Ceniza said. “We have a certain limit of failures. Kapag ganun karami failures mo, there’s a chance for you to get kicked out of the team.”
Ceniza said that the team wants its young players to do well beyond the pitch.
“Ang rationale dyan, ‘pag wala nang football, at least makakita sila ng mabuting trabaho,” Ceniza said.
Success, on and off the pitch, is very important for the team, because unlike other teams in the UFL, Cebu Queen City United represents more than just a club. They represent a whole region’s football pride.