The more things change, the more it stays the same.
United City Football Club, rising from the ashes of Ceres Negros, are the champions of Philippine football.
On paper, they are first time champions, but true fans of local football will acknowledge that they are worthy four-time champions, with most of their core comprised of the team from Bacolod.
After Ceres’ dissolution, their former players might have some apprehensions about joining United City, but their decision would be proven to be the correct one, as they wrapped up the league title ahead of title-rivals Kaya FC.
In an already severely truncated season, where the six participating teams played each other only once to determine the champion, UCFC won the league handily, with one game to spare.
Title rivals Kaya FC is the only team that went through the shortened season undefeated, with three wins and two draws.
But they will be bitterly disappointed with the two draws against Stallion and especially Mendiola, which prevented them from disputing the title against UCFC in their final matchday.
Kaya will be proud of their stellar defensive effort, only conceding two goals whole season long, but ultimately five goals in five games is an extremely poor return for a team with title aspirations.
Few would have given the youthful Azkals Development Team (ADT) much hope of finishing at the top half of the six-team table, but it is a testament to the Azkals aspirants and the coaching staff led by Scott Cooper that they end their campaign at third place, finishing above more experienced teams.
With Jarvey Gayoso, Yrick Gallantes and a host of other players leading the way, the future is indeed bright for Philippine football.
Mendiola fans feared for the worst when they started off the season with a 0-6 shellacking at the hands of eventual champions United City, and their nerves would not have been soothed with a 0-2 defeat to ADT three nights later.
But a highly creditable draw against Kaya and a win against new boys Maharlika consolidated a good season for the boys from Mendiola.
Newly formed Maharlika Manila suffered many personnel issues before the competition, and losing key man Serge Kaole in the first game would not have helped.
Yet, with founder Anton del Rosario leading the way despite sustaining an injury, Maharlika put in a creditable showing in their maiden season, despite their defense letting in a league high 19 goals.
Stallion Laguna ended its season a disappointing last place, but it has been a challenging time for the Laguna based squad and they will hope to do much better in the 2021 season.
The shotgun nature of the league means that there is no room for any error, and a ruthless United City led by Golden Ball winner and captain Stephan Schrock did not waste any chances as they won when it mattered, losing only to Kaya in a no bearing final game.
Talent wise, it seemed that Kaya would be a match for them, at least on paper. But an extreme self-confidence and self-belief from the UCFC boys showed on the pitch, as they strutted their wares en route to decisive victories against Maharlika and Mendiola.
On the pitch, United City are the champions.
But off the pitch, the ultimate and undisputed champions have to be Philippine football.
While some fans might gripe at the very short nature of the league, the fact that the league pushed through and finished is cause for celebration.
If anyone had predicted that football in the Philippines, of all places, will continue to take place despite being in the middle of a global pandemic, it would have been met with incredulity.
But kudos to the men and women of the PFF and the PFL, led by commissioner Coco Torre, who despite the tremendous challenge posed pushed through and successfully staged the tournament.
With online viewing the only option in these times, this platform has been set for the fans to watch local football, and looks well and truly to be part of the local fans’ football viewing habits in the foreseeable future.
Whether fans are allowed back is in question, but what is not up for debate is the dominance of the champions UCFC.
With AFC Champions League action in 2021, the challenge for the champions is to try to keep hold of their key players while adding a few key pieces, which may prove to be a challenge as players such as OJ Porteria have left for the Thai League.
But if there’s one thing we learned, is that whoever their players are, one does not write off the Philippine football juggernaut that is United City Football Club. —JST, GMA News