(University of Makati Stadium)
4 p.m. Kaya Makati vs Ceres Negros
4 p.m. Stallion Laguna vs Meralco Manila
The inaugural season of the Philippines Football League kicks off on Saturday with two matches simultaneously unfolding at University of Makati Stadium and the Binan Stadium.
Kaya FC Makati hosts Ceres Negros in the featured match that will be aired live on Peoples Television, while Stallion Laguna collides with Meralco Manila in Binan, marking the start of what is seen as a long and grueling season where teams play a double-round home-and-away competition.
All eight pioneering clubs will be in action over the weekend with Ilocos United battling Davao Aguilas on Sunday at Quirino Stadium in Vigan, while JPV Marikina squares off with Global Cebu in Binan also at 4 p.m.
It will mark the first time that the country is holding a fully professional community based football competition that is also licensed by the Games and Amusements Board.
Boasting of a squad that punched its ticket to the Asean zonal semifinals of the AFC Cup last Wednesday, Ceres is among the favorites to lift the trophy.
But the Busmen are in for a big test against a Kaya side powered by experienced players like Aly Borromeo, Masa Omura, Alfred Osei, and Woody Ugarte.
Already owning a formidable lineup made up of current national team standouts in Kevin Ingreso and Manny Ott and Spanish midfielder Bienve Maranon, Ceres further bolstered its roster for the PFL by acquiring Iain Ramsay, Simone Rota, and former Kaya players OJ Porteria and Junior Munoz.
“We’re focused on the PFL even though we’re still playing in the AFC Cup,” said Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic after the Busmen beat Tampines Rovers, 4-2, to reach the next round. “We’re not looking past the Kaya match. We want to start the league positively.”
Kaya coach Chris Greatwich acknowledged his side will be underdogs against Ceres. But that doesnt mean that the Makati club will allow the Busmen to play their game.
“Playing Ceres in the first match immediately gives us a gauge on the strength of our side,” said the former Azkal. “We have an interesting mix of youth and experience in our squad.”
Over in Binan, Stallion, and Meralco make their debuts with both clubs also fielding retooled squads.
Stallion will still be led by skipper Balot Doctora and Fitch Arboleda, but coach Ernie Nierras also made some notable signings in Jess Melliza, Ronnie Aguisanda, and Reynaldo Villareal.
Brothers Phil and James Young-husband will still spearhead Meralco, which tapped a new coach in former national team mentor Aris Caslib.