FL eyeing April for 'Copa' return, June league start

Originally published by Philippine News Agency

MANILA – After its supposed start last year was pushed to as late as November due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Philippines Football League (PFL) looks to open its 2021 calendar in a more usual manner.

In an announcement on Saturday night through its "virtual kickoff", the PFL said it has set its resumption of play by April.

However, the scheduling will be different.

The PFL also said the Copa Paulino Alcantara will come first this time before the league season itself.

The league cup was canceled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, making the second ranked team from last season, Kaya Iloilo, the club that will compete in the qualifiers of this year's AFC Champions League (ACL) season.

Oftentimes, the PFL season kicks off first before the Copa.

This year, the league season is scheduled to commence after the FIFA international window in early June.

The Philippine football team, known as the Azkals, is booked for action during the June FIFA window in the World Cup Qualifiers.

The Azkals will face China on June 7 and Maldives on June 15.

The Azkals will actually return on March 25 when they face Guam, but because of the pandemic, despite listing the Azkals as the home team, the match could be played elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the PFL is expected to announce the final 2021 schedule later this month.

However, the PFL might resume play through a bubble, although the expected arrival of the Covid-19 vaccines by February could lead to some late changes.

During the Professional Sports Summit on Dec. 5, 2020, PFL commissioner Coco Torre said he is eyeing eight clubs for next season, baring in earlier interviews that some clubs applied for expansion.

Asked for a reaction from the club officials present in the webinar, United City owner Eric Gottschalk said it would make the players more eager to resume training.

"If we're looking at football, we want to be in practice already because the players cannot afford another several months being out of a job and training, so the earlier we can start, the better," Gottschalk said.

Looking at the new schedule format, he added, "We want to make sure that the format suits everybody."

Gottschalk also believed that having the PFL to come back sooner through the Copa return is necessary especially for United City, Kaya Iloilo, and even the Azkals.

"Paul Tolentino, Kaya Iloilo's general manager], and I are going to play in Asian competitions. The Azkals are going ahead by the end of May and beginning of June with their [FIFA World Cup] Qualifiers. So if the players have not participated and trained for 5-6 months, it's going to put everybody at a huge disadvantage," he added.

The AFC has yet to agree on the final ACL calendar, although Tolentino said, "There is a possibility that the qualifier would be played around the middle or the third week of April."

However, despite potentially a short resting period, Tolentino said he is fine with having the Copa by April.

"Starting in April would allow us more preparation and active competition," Tolentino further said.

He added that the AFC may release the final ACL schedule on Jan. 27 during the group draw.

If Kaya Iloilo misses out on the ACL group stages, they will still be playing Asian football this year as the club is already assured of a spot in the AFC Cup group stages.

The Asean Zone group stages are scheduled from June 22 to 28 at a soon to be determined bubble site. (PNA)

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