The quarterfinal cast is set for the PFF-SMART Club Nationals with the close of the Round of 16 matches this weekend throughout the country.
Seven of the eight winners are linked with the United Football League, including recent UFL Cup invitee General Trias International FC. The all-Korean side emerged with a 3-1 victory over Baguio United FC in what was described as a "foggy, sloppy and soggy" afternoon at the Benguet State University. Yi Young "Justin" Park opened the scoring in the 33rd minute, but Joseph Lingwayon found an equalizer before halftime. Jeong Mu "Alex" Lee put GTI ahead early in the second half, then fully securing their quarterfinal appearance with Jeong Woo "Tony" Lee scoring the insurance goal in the 85th minute.
Highlighting the dominance of the UFL was their 4/4 performance on Saturday, with the Loyola Meralco Sparks illustrating it with an 8-0 thrashing of Luzon Regional winners Flame United at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
In spite of some upgrades via the temporary acquisition of some players from the 2011 UFL Cup Champions Air Force, they were hopelessly overmatched by the Sparks, who celebrated the return of Matthew Hartmann from his year-long suspension from official football activity by the Philippine Football Federation.
He started out in the defensive midfield position in new head coach Vincent Santos' starting XI, the spot deftly handled by the now-recalled to Pachanga Anto Gonzales. Their other major new acquisition, Freddy Gonzalez, started out on the bench, but made his entry after 57 minutes to replace Chad Gould.
Matthew's brother Mark opened the floodgates with a brace in the 17th and 25th minute, before James Younghusband slotting in a 3rd goal at the 38th minute. Matthew and UFL Cup Top Goalscorer Phil Younghusband alternated goals in the second half (Matthew's were in the 49th, 72nd and 86th, while Phil's were from the 67th and 76th) to provide the final outcome.
The Mindanao Regional winners did not fare better, as Romgarjal FC was felled by Green Archers United, 6-1 at the JRSU Sports Complex in Dapitan City. The souped up side did not take long to make an immediate impact, Jovanie Simpron opened scoring within the first minute of play. They doubled the lead four minutes later, thanks to Reynald Villareal. Although Romgarjal's Aldren Daga-ang managed to pull one back in the 20th minute, GAU's potent strikeforce of Tating Pasilan (36th) and Emelio Caligdong (40th) added to the scoring to make it a 4-1 tally after the first half. Dominic Mensah added a fifth goal in the 55th minute, before coach Rodolfo Alicante decided to insert his reserves minutes later.
Recent TOYM awardee Caligdong added another goal before the match ended for the final tally.
In Aboitiz Field, Pachanga Diliman slipped past their old Division II rivals Cebu Queen City United, 3-1. Guam international Jason Cunliffe supplied the game-winner in the 67th minute, while new acquisition Ojay Clarino scored the insurance goal in the 88th minute. Both sides had played out to a 1-1 standstill after 45 minutes, with goals from Joven Bedic in the 38th minute and Samson Olaniyi a minute into first half injury time.
On Sunday, the UFL guaranteed itself two more berths at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, with a matchup featuring Division I teams.
The first part of the doubleheader saw Pasargad through to the next round with a 2-1 win over Army. Pasargad scored twice, c/o Jahambaksh Taher and Emmanuel Mbata, before the tide turned thanks to Promise Jolomi being sent off for two yellow cards. Army then turned on the offensive, eventually pulling one back c/o Ricardo Becite, but the match featured a heavy dose of physicality and intensity.
The second part featured Global FC outlasting a game and gritty Nomads side 2-1. John Jofre's side repulsed the UFL Cup runners-up's offense, with Friso Klok making save after save. Carlie de Murga finally broke the deadlock after 70 minutes, then Sam Fogg inadvertently headed in a goal into his own net twelve minutes later. Bafio Magassa scored one for Nomads near the end of the match, but time ran out and the reigning league champions advanced to the quarterfinals.
It could have been 8/8 for the UFL, but the last and perceived to be the strongest provincial qualifier left in the competition made the biggest impact of them all.
Visayan Regional champions and Negrense powerhouse Ceres FC pulled out a 1-0 victory over their Ilonggo rivals and newly-minted UFL Cup champions Penson Stallion Gilligan's FC. Kim Jung Mook scored the lone goal just before the halftime whistle in front of their home fans at Panaad Stadium.
The men of Freddie Lazarito, led by Jason Cordova and Joshua Beloya, held and kept Stallion in check all day long. Although Stallion managed to find an equalizer late, the goal was disallowed due to a referee's decision.
The victory for them means a trip to Manila this weekend for the team of the Yanson brothers, where they will face Global FC to open the QFs on Saturday, January 19 at 4 pm. It will be followed by the matchup of Kaya FC against Loyola Meralco at 630 pm.
On Sunday, the 20th of January, it will be a rematch-filled doubleheader with Pachanga-Diliman and Green Archers United kicking this off at 4pm. Both teams met in the UFL Cup Quarterfinals, where the Archers needed penalties to advance to the semis. Meanwhile, the nightcap features Pasargad against General Trias International FC, which met at the UFL group stage. GTI escaped with a 1-1 draw to formalize their entry in the knockout stages of the UFL Cup and eliminated Pasargad in the process.