THE league heavyweights hope to hold their ground as emerging powers look to steal the show as the new United Football League season kicks off on Tuesday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Player movement, some changes in league format and the move to a new football park are expected to make it a more level playing field this season.
Defending champion Global collides with Philippine Football Federation-Smart Club championship finalist PSG at 7:30 p.m. after Philippine Army faces Loyola Meralco at 5:15 p.m.
Although it has a new Scottish coach in Brian Reid, Global is expected to have a tougher run this time after losing two key players in national team members Juani Guirado and Demitrius Omphroy. Guirado has gone back to playing professionally in Spain, and Demitrius Omphroy has also decided to return to Major League Soccer.
Meanwhile, PSG is expected to provide a huge challenge to league heavyweights this season after upgrading its Iranian-laden lineup with Filipino-Belgian defensive midfielder Angelo Marasigan. The improvement has been evident during the club’s run to the finals of the club championship.
The Sparks, led by brothers James and Phil Younghusband and Mark and Matthew Hartmann, have added offensive punch with the acquisition of former national team member and Division 2 scoring leader Freddy Gonzales.
“There’s no guaranteed dominant club this coming League,” UFL chairman Santi Araneta said during the press conference on Thursday at Panggo’s Grill in Quezon City formally announcing the league’s opening.
“It really shows the quality of football has improved, and not just by bringing foreign players but local talent has really changed the game,” added Araneta, who owns 2012 runner up Kaya and is the CEO of LBC Express.
After the games in the first two weeks will be held in Rizal, the league then transfers to its new home, the Mckinley Hill Football Field in Taguig.
Apart from the player movement and its new all-weather $1-million pitch that will ensure less postponement of games, the league has also done some changes internally.
“The FA (Football Alliance) has increased the management structure of the UFL to allow the league to focus its attention on other activities like national tournaments, rescheduling, and all our coordination with the PFF. So there’s less disruption this year,” Araneta said.
A total of 180 matches (90 for each division) will be played in the league, which is expected to run until June 20, with a break slated for the Challenge Cup and the Holy Week from March 22 to 30.
The Division 1 team with the most points at the end of the season emerges champion while the cellar-dwelling team unfortunately gets relegated. The top Division 2 team earns promotion.
Under a new rule, the ninth-placed Division 1 team will also face relegation and the second-placed Division 2 club a chance at promotion in a home-and-away series, according to UFL technical director Ritchie Gannaban.
Unlike last season when the telecast was just a one-day weekend afternoon game, the league’s Division 1 games will now be aired Tuesday and Thursday nights through its TV partner AKTV.
“We’re going to be able to continue what we started in the UFL Cup… which will give audiences a better chance to see their favorite UFL teams and players,” Sports 5 manager Vitto Lazatin said.