Adapt and survive: Philippine football and the pandemic-hit season

Published December 26, 2020, 6:15 PM

by Jonas Terrado

Three players from Kaya-Iloilo take part in passing drill during the resumption of PFL training sessions at the National Training Centre in Carmona, Cavite. (PFL photo)

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the activities in the local football scene in 2020, resulting in the postponement of international matches, the demise of the country’s most decorated club and the domestic league reduced to a two-week bubble season.

The Philippine Azkals were left grounded throughout the year as the pandemic forced the postponement of the World Cup/Asian Cup Qualifiers and the prestigious AFF Suzuki Cup, Southeast Asia’s premier football competition.

At the time that the virus forced the country to impose strict community quarantine regulations, Ceres-Negros and Kaya-Iloilo were in the middle of their group stage campaigns in the AFC Cup while the Philippines Football League was about to start its fourth season.

Ceres had been playing well prior to the suspension of the competition, almost advancing to the AFC Champions League after two victories over Myanmar’s Shan United and Thailand’s Port FC before bowing to Japan’s FC Tokyo in the playoff round.

The Busmen routed Indonesia’s Bali United 4-0 under a closed-door setup at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on March 11 in the AFC Cup group stage match before the pandemic. It turned out to be the last for the Bacolod-based outfit.

The economic effects of the community quarantine forced Ceres-Negros chairman Leo Rey Yanson to transfer ownership to a new group led by Eric Gottschalk, who immediately changed the club name to United City FC.

United City was one of six clubs that took part in the shortened Philippines Football League season which got the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force to proceed under a bubble setup inside the Philippine Football Federation National Training Center in Calamba, Laguna.

Read: Football begins in Carmona as PFL fires off shortened season

UCFC was able to sign the core of the Ceres lineup, namely Spaniard Bienvenido Maranon, Azkals team captain Stephan Schrock, OJ Porteria and brothers Manny and Mike Ott.

Behind those players, United City picked up where Ceres left off and was able to win its first four matches coupled with a slip-up by closest pursuer Kaya to clinch the PFL crown with one match left on the schedule.

Kaya had a consolation of sorts as it ended the PFL bubble unbeaten after denying United City a five-game sweep on the season’s final day.

The PFL bubble opened the door for several players to accept offers from clubs in neighboring countries, particularly Thailand.

Jarvey Gayoso and Mar Diano, who made strong impressions in their stints with the Azkals Development Team, signed for Muangthong United while Porteria inked a deal with Ratchaburi.

Other football stories saw the climb of the women’s national team to a record 65th position in the FIFA world ranking despite not having a match in 2020, the postponement of the AFF Women’s Championship which was supposed to be held in the country and the hiring of former Dutch player Vic Hermans to help the country’s futsal program.