PFL 2018 preview: Sinister 6 battle royale

The Philippines Football League’s (PFL) second season is set to begin on March 3 and now that this coming edition is going to have six teams vying for the championship, let’s briefly preview each team this coming season.

Let’s briefly discuss the teams according to their last season’s standings:

Ceres Negros (Head coach: Risto Vidakovic)

The defending champions are coming into the tournament as the clear strong favorites.

With most of their lineup intact, especially the midfield and backline, The Busmen are still a force and are brimming with creativity, with the likes of Manny Ott, Stephan Schrock and Kevin Ingreso, from an offensive standpoint, while former Real Betis stopper Toni Doblas adds a wealth of experience in fortifying the goalmouth.

For the frontline, although Spanish striker Fernando Rodriguez has moved on to new pastures in Indonesia, acquisition of former JPV striker Takumi Uesato could turn out to be a very good move with his cunning in creating chances for himself and his frontline partners Mike Ott and Bienvenido Maranon.

Another crucial thing that could come into play is Ceres are coming into the league with a wealth of matches already from the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup fixtures that somehow contribute to their match fitness and chemistry.

The team is also an invincible force in their home in Panaad as shown by their recent 9-0 drubbing of Boeungket Angkor.

But that doesn’t mean Ceres is impenetrable, especially away from home, as shown by their 1-1 draw against 10-men Home United in Singapore. An uncharacteristic but possible off-night for the Busmen’s attack could give an opportunity for opposing teams to draw against or even steal a win.

Strengths: Wealth of creativity and attacking options, seemingly unstoppable in Panaad

Possible Weaknesses: An off-night in front of goal in an away fixture could make the team vulnerable to drop points or even get beaten

Key players: Bienvenido Maranon, Stephan Schrock, Manny Ott

New players to watch: Mike Ott, Takumi Uesato, Sean Kane, Toni Doblas

Global Cebu (Head Coach: Marjo Allado)

Global Cebu underwent a change of ownership and have undergone significant changes in lineup.

Some of the major players who were crucial in their last season’s run to the runners-up spot have already moved on such as team captain Misagh Bahadoran, industrious attacking midfielder Hikaru Minegishi, and defender Dennis Villanueva.

However, the club was able to benefit from the demise of Meralco Manila in the professional level as they were able to secure the services of speedy left-midfielder Curt Dizon, who is slowly becoming a revelation for the club with a against Bali united, and midfield dynamo Daniel Gadia.

What Global Cebu needed to develop on (quickly) is to be able to further improve the incisiveness of the team. Yes, they have Darryl Roberts and Rufo Sanchez who can score goals but the fluency linking the midfield to the frontline can still be very much improved, as well as keeping possession of the ball.

On the defensive end, Patrick Deyto is becoming more and more a commanding presence between the posts but, based on the results of their two AFC Cup fixtures, the solidity of the backline can still be strengthened with better discipline.

Other concerns though now mainly lie in their home stadium, the current state of the pitch in Cebu City Sports Center is far from acceptable for a PFL match which puts the team in a situation where they play their “home” games away from home.

With the club boasting one of the best attendances in the league every time they play in Cebu, it is unfair if they are forced to play to a different and very far venue just because of pitch issues.

Strengths: Goalkeeper Patrick Deyto is in good form heading to the season, Curt Dizon could turn out to be a revelation for the club.

Weakness: Incisiveness, and fluency in passing the ball can still be improved

Key players: Patrick Deyto, Rufo Sanchez, Darryl Roberts

New player to watch: Curt Dizon

Kaya FC (Head Coach: Noel Marcaida)

Image sourced from: Kaya FC Instagram account

Kaya FC just transferred its base from Makati City to Iloilo City.

The move could turn out to be a good one in terms of home game attendances given that football has a significant following as a spectator sport in the city.

With  Jordan Mintah and Robert Lopez Mendy most probably leading the attack, Kaya still has that firepower and will be motivated to improve from their last season’s fourth-place finish.

With Woody Ugarte and Miguel Tanton back in midfield (they were sorely missed in some crucial parts of the season due to injuries), a full strength Kaya FC has the potential to finish strong this coming season.

Strengths: Kaya is an industrious team with physically imposing strikers such as Robert Lopez Mendy and Jordan Mintah who could be a punishing frontline if they come out clicking well in a match.

Possible Weakness: Last year’s injuries on key players affected Kaya’s run to the season. A certain level of consistency in getting results in the midst of injuries should be something they need to anticipate and address.

Key players: Jordan Mintah, Miguel Tanton, Robert Mendy

New player to watch: Connor Tacagni

Stallion Laguna (Head Coach: Ernest Nierras)

Image sourced from: Stallion Laguna FC Facebook page

If Stallion will be able to start well this 2018 edition they way they finished last year, good things are definitely to come for Laguna.

Their problem during the inaugural edition of the PFL was they started the season probably in the worst possible way.

They tried to correct their ship in the second half of the campaign and made drastic improvements notching crucial wins, but the initial bad run’s effect was just too much to correct and turn things around for them to make the Finals series.

Last year’s bright spot though was Jesus Melliza was a revelation topping the goalscoring chart for local players with 13 markers.

One thing is for sure come their first fixture, they will do everything they can to start well this time around.

Strengths: The ability to play Stallion has finally got the ingredients to compete from the get go and they have an uncanny ability beating big clubs

Possible Weakness: Last year’s bad start to the season could be at the back of their heads. Breaking through that psychological barrier and starting well could be a challenge this season.

Key players: Gabriele Mascazzini, Jesus Melliza, Fitch Arboleda, Benito Rosalia

New player to watch: Farbod Mahmudi, Jason Cordova

JPV Marikina (Head Coach: Dan Padernal)

Images sourced from: JPV Marikina Facebook page

JPV was the complete opposite of Stallion last season. They started off the blocks in the early part of the year, even beating Ceres Negros FC.

But a string of injuries that sidelined some key players, such as then striker Takumi Uesato’s, affected their form.

They even suffered a loss by default which also dented their campaign.

Finally, last year was pretty harsh for the club as they weren’t able to play even once in their designated home turf, the Marikina Sports Complex.

This year will be wholly different though as the stadium is now cleared as fit to host a PFL match.

Such development hopefully will be a morale booster as the club will finally be able to play in the place they could really call their home.

Having arguably the best playing style and football philosophy in the league, JPV will now have a clean slate for the coming season to really play to their potential.

Another challenge is two of their key players moved on to other teams with striker Takumi Uesato going to Ceres Negros and midfield general Takashi Odawara going to Davao Aguilas.

The new set of players will have to prove themselves in a bid to come up with a better campaign this year.

Strengths: Possession-based footballing philosophy.

Possible Weakness: They get lose their groove if they go against an overly defensive squad.

Key players: Nelson Gasic, Suzuki Tsubasa,

New player to watch: Kennedy Uzoka

Davao Aguilas (Head Coach: Marlon Maro)

Image sourced from: Davao Aguilas FC Facebook page

Davao Aguilas might arguably have the most disappointing campaign last season. It was evident in the offseason that they did everything they can to bolster their squad.

Now boasting probably the strongest lineup on paper (that might even trump Ceres Negros), Coach Marlon Maro now has a big task of leading the squad to a strong finish, with probably an AFC Cup berth at the least.

Last year’s mid-season management and personnel changes would also not be an excuse this time around, hence the expectations are big for this pretty loaded squad.

A finish of anything less than qualification to the international tournaments will spell disaster to this club. But, if they are able to harness their strengths and really play as a unit… we can just leave to the imagination how devastating Davao Aguilas would be this season!

Strengths: A loaded lineup of players with a good balance of experience and immense potential.

Possible Weakness: Based on last season, chemistry could be an issue (which shouldn’t be this time around) and having a playing style that would fit the type of players.

Key players: Phil Younghusband, Harrison Sawyer, Dylan de Bruycker

New players to watch: Josh Grommen, Takashi Odawara, Dennis Villanueva


A major change in this second season of the PFL will be the format.

The league will not have a Finals Series this time, but will apply a pure league format where a win is worth three points, and a draw is equivalent to a point.

This means that the team with the most points tallied at the end of the season wins, where goal difference comes into play if there is a need for a tiebreaker. So all competing teams must be on their “A”-game from the get go.

Ceres might be the favorites to win this season, but in reality, with the fewer teams and the application of a league table format for the whole season, it’s anybody’s tournament.

It could be poised to be a battle royale!