THE arduous quest for back-to-back championships in the United Football League (UFL) begins for Stallion on opening day when it battles Green Archers United at the Emperador Stadium in Mckinley Hill on Saturday.
Without most of their key cogs in banned MVP Rufo Sanchez, Joaco Cañas, Lee Joo Young, Park Bo Bae, Diego Barrera, and Hecto Zaghi, who have either bolted to other teams or were released, the Stallions have to rely more on their local core led by Ruben Doctora and Bervic Italia.
And the new-look squad shows its worth as it kicks off its title defense against an intact Archers side led by Chieffy Caligdong and Tating Pasilan at 8:30 p.m. after Cup runner-up Pachanga-Diliman collides with Division 1 rookie Socceroo at 6:15 p.m.
Despite his overhauled roster, Stallions coach Ernie Nierras believes his current team is not necessarily weaker than the powerhouse squad that captured the UFL league crown last year.
“I don’t think so,” the confident mentor told Spin.ph on Friday. “That’s what other people would want to hope for. But we’re the defending champions, so if they want to take us for granted, that’s their choice.”
Nierras, however, admitted it’s going to be an uphill climb after the Stallions relinquished their Cup title following their early ouster in the quarterfinals of the knockout tournament two months ago.
“It’s not going to be easy. After you win the title, the hardest thing is to defend it. We found that out in the Cup,” he said. “Now in the League, we have to do a lot to be able to defend our title.”
“And the players that I have are willing to put in the work and effort to win this title back to us,” he added.
The Stallions have a few notable acquisitions in homegrown Filipino striker Meliton Pelayo, who is on loan from Philippine Army, Filipino-Italian centerback Simone Rota, and former PSG skipper Hamed Hajimehdi of Iran.
“I was able to bring in players who can run the system that we ran last year but in a different way,” Nierras said. “Last year, it was a very fast team. Possession ball is still going to be our main thing, but now we have to be more creative in attacking.”
Although ready for their campaign, Nierras had one qualm about the league’s schedule that will see the Stallions play the second and final game of an untelevised playdate.
“Nag-champion ka eh, so it makes sense na yung first televised match mo will be the champion team,” Nierras said.
“The least you can do is to give me the first televised match. I mean I won the championship and then you’re going to put me in the second game that’s not televised,” he added.
Sports5, which covers the league, only airs the tournament live on AksyonTV on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Weekend games are not televised.
“It’s up to the UFL. My point is more on principle than anything else. If it’s tomorrow, it’s tomorrow. But as champion, I don’t want to be treated as such,” Nierras concluded.