Coach Norman Del Rosario said both age groups were loaded with high-caliber teams from around the Philippines and every game was tightly fought as only the top team in each group was guaranteed a slot to the playoffs.
“By winning a game, our boys already met expectations. Then both teams topped their respective age groups and then for the best part, our U17 made it to the finals,” the MP United mentor said.
The club’s U14 team competed in the Pilipinas Cup for the first time and won its first two games against Palarong Pambansa (PH National Games) contender FC Higala and Loyola Meralco Sparks.
“The match against Meralco was crucial as that team was considered as one of the favorites. We had the first goal from Joshua (Abragan) from a nice cross, but the Sparks equalized right away,” Del Rosario said.
“During the halftime break, I reiterated to the boys that we will have a hard time penetrating inside because Meralco had strong and way taller back four. Our strikers are mostly 11-year olds, like Rintaro, Rinto, Jon, Danielle so it’s going to be hard. I told the boys to stick with our game plan and that’s to shoot from outside the box or if there will be a free kick then we take the risk of shooting than to play it. It worked as Sun Joon (Tenorio) had a clear floater outside the box,” he added.
After a 2-0 start, MP United U14 secured draws versus FC Forza Academy and FC Nasugbu to top Group A and marched into the semifinals. The team eventually fell to Don Bosco College Canlubang in the semis and to Green Barons FC in the battle for third place.
As for the club’s U17 crew, it stunned its competitors in Group C and had the opportunity to challenge the tough Far Easter University Diliman in the finals.
Initially, Del Rosario downplayed the U17 squad’s chances in the competition, as some key players failed to join the team in the Philippines either due to school commitment or age requirement. Last year, the club fielded a team in the U18 division and several players were ineligible for a return trip to the Pilipinas Cup when age group was changed to 17. Del Rosario was worried that while their opponents may have an intact lineup, theirs maybe depleted a bit.
However, the younger crew got the job done, sweeping all four games in the elimination, including against the then unbeaten University of Batangas, to make it to the semis. MP United U17 was not done yet with University of Batangas as they met anew in the Final Four and the former won again to set a finals date with FEU Diliman, which eventually ended the club’s winning run to rule the division.
The loss, according to Del Rosario was a wakeup call to MP United players and the entire tournament gave the team valuable lessons.
“Players should always think that there is someone better than them so they have to work harder every practice and exert effort to do some extra training on their own time. This trip helped the team have a stronger bond because football is a sport with 11 men inside the field playing in sync and not individually. It also helped our team become mentally ready for whatever battles that may come our way,” Del Rosario said.
Besides the they impressive showing in the tournament, Del Rosario also took note of the players’ attitude on and off the pitch.
“We were not only there to win games, but to be good representatives of Saipan as well. After the tournament, I got a message from a parent, saying our MPU players have good upbringing and behaved well,” the MP United mentor said.
Meanwhile, the club would like to thank the following for making their Pilipinas Cup campaign a success: MP United players, parents, staff and officers; sponsors IT&E, IP&E, I Love Saipan 3HighRes Design, and Dr. Park of Brothers Acupuncturel; Julian Roxas and Marco and Luis Borja of MPU’s sister club Manila Soccer Academy/Agila FC; and Carlo Rodriguez, Jeoff Lobaton, Troy Borja, and Richard Leyble.