Kaya 1, Balestier Khalsa 0: We belong

MANILA, Philippines - Kaya are the real deal. It was gamu-gamo night on Tuesday in Rizal Memorial, and thousands of the winged bugs, (termites, I hear), congregated around the lights on top of the grandstand. It's an annual rite of summer in the Philippines. 

I'm no entomologist, but my understanding of the gamu-gamo phenomenon is that the critters spring from their larval state with fresh wings and flit around for a few hours, (perhaps do some mating as well), then quickly perish. 

Last week Kaya defeated New Radiant 1-0 with a heart-stopping injury time strike by OJ Porteria. But could Kaya sustain that form against Balestier? Or would their purple patch be, like the life of a gamu-gamo, glorious but short-lived? We got a great answer on Tuesday night with this handsome victory. 

Don't let the score fool you. 1-0 flattered the visitors. Kaya were clearly the superior team, and they did it the right way: by bossing the midfield. 

Massive props to Miguel Tanton, OJ Porteria, Kenshiro Daniels, and Antonio Ugarte for controlling possession and enthralling the hundreds of fans with numerous passing sequences. Nonoy Felongco did well bombing upfield and nearly connected with fellow Ilonggo Jovin Bedic for a goal. 

The flair which which Porteria and Tanton handled the leather was not to be found in the ranks of the Singaporean side, who were understandably flat since this was their fourth match in thirteen days.


Or perhaps Balestier Khalsa were really doomed from the start, thanks to yet another omen from the animal kingdom. Minutes before the start of the game a stray cat needed to be shooed off the pitch. Ninety minutes later it was the Singaporean team, nicknamed the Tigers, who were dismissed from the field. It was indeed a bad night for felines, thanks to an inspired Kaya side that is growing in confidence. 

Kaya's centerbacks ruled the day. Incredible, unbelievable stat of this campaign for Kaya: after 270 minutes of combat, they have yet to concede a goal in open play. (Remember, the goal that Kitchee scored on them was via a penalty, and a disputed one at that). The centerback partnership of Masanari Omura, 31, and Aly Borromeo, 32, takes much of the credit. 

It's worth mentioning their ages, because Borromeo and Omura have plenty of experience, and yet aren't old enough to lose a step. It's arguably a sweet spot age for a central defender, and this duo are living proof. 

Borromeo was magnificent in the first half, tidying up well, positioning himself in just the right places, and also electing to make the cultured pass under duress to a team mate instead of hoofing down the park. He also produced a pinpoint long ball down the flank that Jovin Bedic nearly converted into a goal. 

Omura shone in the second half, with several important interventions on the Balestier attackers. One of the Japanese players' many traits is his communication. You can always hear his horn-like voice over the din of a Kaya game, as he directs traffic and feeds vital information to his comrades further upfield. 

Omura is a winner. My biggest memory of him will be in the UFL Cup quarterfinals in 2012, after Kaya lost to Global. His anguished tears watered the University of Makati's carabao grass at the final whistle. That's how much it means to him. 

As long as these two vets remain healthy and continue to partner together, Kaya's opponents will have a lot of trouble scoring goals. 

Antonio Ugarte and Adrian Gallardo gave every aspiring young Filipino striker an important lesson in finishing. Ugarte is on his second stint with Kaya after playing in the Thai second tier for a spell. Football is in his blood. Once upon a time there was a football field in the triangle of greenery in Makati formed by Makati Avenue, Ayala Avenue, and Paseo de Roxas. It was known as Ugarte Field, and I recall seeing football being played there in the early eighties. (Dating myself much?) Antonio says it was named after an ancestor, the legendary Sebastian Ugarte, who played football for DLSU. 

Tito Sebastian would have appreciated the strike. The younger Ugarte gathers the ball well from a deflection and in an instant zips it past the Balestier keeper Zaiful Nizam. The shot happened so quickly that Zaiful was unable to react. 

On Tuesday night Ceres - La Salle FC was also in AFC Cup action, and they grabbed a huge point in Singapore against Tampines Rovers with an 88th minute strike from Adrian Gallardo for 1-1. His late equalizer can be viewed at the end of this clip.

The goals are similar in one important respect: they are both the products of early shots. In fact, Gallardo took his first time. Too often we see young strikers take a zillion touches on the ball before pulling the trigger. That often results in the defense closing the shooter down.

Gallardo and Ugarte show how simple this business of scoring goals can be. Don't mess about. When the chance presents itself, fire right away. By the time the goalkeeper is thinking about reacting, he already has to fish the ball out of the net. 

Kaya needs a nickname. This is something I have been wrestling with for a while. Man United are the Red Devils. Barcelona are the Blaugrana (red and blue.) Loyola are the Sparks. Green Archers are, well, the Green Archers. What are the Kaya players called? If they have a nickname, I have never heard it.

This may seem like a trivial point, but whenever I write an article about a team I like to refer to them by their nickname at times. I can't do that with Kaya. (Same for another nickname-less squad, Global.) 

In contrast, every single Singaporean S-League team has an animal nickname or animal on their crest, with the exception of Home United, who have a dragon on their logo and are known as “The Protectors.” 

I think Kaya should adopt a nickname, and my suggestion is to call them The Couriers, as a nod to LBC their main sponsor. Just a suggestion, ignore if you like.

Couriers are meant to deliver, and on one gamu-gamo infested night, that's just what Kaya's players did in emphatic fashion. They are now first in Group F and looking mighty sharp. – Rappler.com 

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH