United City begins 2021 ACL campaign
By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
KAYA FC-Iloilo created history late Wednesday by barging into the group stage of the 2021 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL).
The Philippines Football League (PFL) staple defeated Shanghai Port FC of China, 1-0, in their playoff match at the Pathum Thani Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand, to book its place in the main draw of the prestigious football meet for the first time ever.
It now plays in Group F of the ACL beginning on Saturday, where it will be pitted against champion squads BG Pathum United of host Thailand and Viettel of Vietnam, and defending Champions League titleholder Ulsan Hyundai of Korea.
With Kaya advancing, there will be two Philippine clubs representing the country in the 2021 ACL — the other is reigning PFL champion United City Football Club in Group I.
Kaya was aggressive right from the get-go of its match with Shanghai Port, driven by its desire to make a big impression in its first appearance in the tournament and go deep in the competition.
It did not take long for the team to break through, with Audie Menzi scoring in the 16th minute off a pass from teammate Daizo Horikoshi for the 1-0 lead.
Jolted by its opponent’s score, Shanghai Port stepped up its play the rest of the way but Kaya’s defense would hold its own en route to preserving the victory and making its way to the ACL group stage.
“Group Stage Bound!!!” the team excitedly wrote on its official Fecebook page.
In the lead-up to its playoff match, Kaya brought in Englishman Graham Harvey as coach and signed new players Jarvey Gayoso, JhanJhan Melliza, Fitch Johnson, Daviz Arboleda, Ryo Fujii and Patrick Asare to join mainstays like Jovin Bedic, Marwin Angeles, Simona Rota and Louie Casas (goalkeeper).
It will be a short turnaround for Kaya though as it plays its first game in the group stage against BG Pathum United on June 26 in Bangkok.
Prior to making it to the AFC Champions League, Kaya played in the AFC Cup three times before and reached the Round of 16 back in 2016.
UNITED CITY BEGINS CAMPAIGN, TOO
Meanwhile, PFL champion United City begins its 2021 ACL campaign, too, on Saturday.
It takes on Beijing FC of China in opening Group I action at the Bunyodkor Stadium in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
United City played in the preliminaries of the ACL three times previously, then under the banner of Ceres-Negros FC, and this will be the first time that it will be seeing action in the group stage.
The team will be bannered by the likes of Stephan Schröck, Bienvenido Maranon, Mike Ott, Mark Hartmann and Justin Baas.
Also playing in Group I of the ACL are Daegu FC of Korea and Kawasaki Frontale of Japan.