United or Ceres, it doesn’t matter—team is headed for AFC as champs

Originally published by INQUIRER.NET

The name of the club may have changed but United City FC’s (UCFC) championship pedigree remained the same.

And just like it did as Ceres-Negros before, United City will go from ruling the country to challenging Asia’s best.

“It is good that even if we changed management we are still the best team in the Philippines and we showed it again today,” Spanish striker Bienve Marañon said. “We wanted to keep that Ceres legacy. Now we will have a chance in playing strong clubs from China, Japan, Korea, which we all look forward to next year.”

That’s certainly the next goal after UCFC whipped Stallion Laguna, 7-1, late Friday night to rule the Philippines Football League giving the squad a title that came with a ticket to the AFC Champions League.

Since 2018, the club had been knocking on the door in the main draw only to fall short at the final qualifying stage twice.

But right now, UCFC will spend time celebrating as it capped a roller-coaster year the best way it could.

“The past few months have been very tough on everyone but you have to give credit to the players and the management for just being here and still keeping that winning mentality,” captain Stephan Schrock said.

As COVID-19 began blanketing the country, football patron Leo Rey Yanson surrendered ownership of the club to Dubai-based marketing firm MMC Sportz, which retained 16 players from the team.

That decision paid dividends at PFF National Training Center, the Carmona, Cavite province pitch that hosted the tournament.

Up 2-1 at halftime, UCFC scorched its foes in the final 45 minutes with Marañon firing a hat trick and standouts Mike Ott and OJ Porteria getting on the scoresheet.

Ott scored off a Marañon pass in the 11th minute, but Stallion knotted the match after UCFC conceded for the first time in four matches in the competition as striker Ibrahim Ndour, on a counterattack, was simply unstoppable.

But Takashi Odawara headed home from the far post later to put UCFC ahead for good.

Marañon, whose application for naturalization has been filed in Congress, then blitzed the second half to hike his goal count to a tournament-leading seven.

The victory means UCFC will have little at stake when it faces Kaya FC Iloilo on Monday. For Kaya, however, the match carries much significance, with an AFC Champions League playoff spot still at stake for the second placer.

Kaya was supposed to be UCFC’s major hurdle to the crown but flubbed its bid to turn Monday into a you-or-me showdown when it was held to a draw by unheralded Mendiola FC in an earlier match.

“When we learned about the Kaya result, we wanted to seal it (win against Stallion),” UCFC coach Francis Muescan said.

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