Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Catching up with former Azkal Ray Jonsson

Catching up with former Azkal Ray Jonsson
by rick olivares

It has been three years since Ray Jonsson played his last match for the Philippines. That was a 1-1 draw with India during an international friendly. After the nagging injuries forced him to hang up his boots, at least on an international level, the Fil-Icelander concentrated on his club team Grindavik then returned to the Philippines to close out his career with Global in 2015.

“I almost never got injured during my younger years,” reflected Jonsson from his home in Iceland. “But after I turned 34, the injuries came quite often. I’d pull a muscle and there would be all sorts of injuries that kept me from playing. I realized that I could no longer play for my club and the national team at the same time. I needed to rest my body and focus on one thing. I decided to play for Global in 2015 and to finish my career with them.”

Jonsson since returned to Iceland and back to his old side, Grindavik where he accepted another dual role – this time as playing coach following the footsteps of his old Azkals teammate Chris Greatwich. “We play in the fourth division and I still play for them,” related Jonsson. “I played in seven matches last season and scored four goals. But lately, I have preferred to stand and coach on the side.”

Coaching, Jonsson admits, didn’t come easy. “It felt weird to begin with but I got used to it. The difficult part is having to control 25-plus guys – former teammates as well -- from training to matches. I never realized as a player how difficult it was for the coach and how difficult I could be. After a several weeks, I think I got the hang of it.”

Not playing also meant spending more time to tend to his growing family. The Jonssons now have three children (two girls and a baby boy who only came into this world last October 23). “Family,” quipped Ray, “Is important.”

Despite his growing family, Jonsson takes his club duties seriously.

To aid him in his coaching, Jonsson drew from his experience playing for four clubs in Iceland and his time in the Philippines. “I used things I learned from my training and matches in the past for our training sessions with Grindavik,” admitted the man who was born in Cebu but moved to Iceland at a young age.”

From Iceland, Jonsson was prescient regarding the Philippines’ chances of advancing in the Suzuki Cup’s Group of Death. “How we fare in the first game will decide what happens. If we win we could go all the way. If not, it will be difficult.”

True enough, the Philippines figured in a disappointing scoreless draw with Singapore despite the latter playing with 10 men for close to an hour (after a player was shown a red card for a harsh challenge). “I am disappointed that we didn’t go through. But I think it is not a step back. We are just in the same place as 2010 where we had a lot of young players coming in. But maybe we should have also involved some of the older players. But that’s just my opinion.”

Despite the collective disappointment of not advancing for the first time in six years, Jonsson knows the team will be back. “There’s no turning back. The Azkals will get better form this.”

And who knows, maybe one day, that old right back from Cebu by way of Iceland could be coaching the national side.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Got my copy on this book about Philippine football (wrote two chapters)

Philippine Football: Its Past, Its Future is going to be launched soon. I write two chapters for this book -- one about the glory days of Paulino Alcantara and company and the rebirth that began with the 2010 Suzuki Cup. 

Am a happy happy man.

For those with questions about Phil Younghusband, the style of play of the Azkals from the last Suzuki Cup

For those questioning why Phil Younghusband was not playing upfront….
Even Michael Weiss used Phil behind the strikers at times. And Phil has played behind for a year now under Thomas Dooley.

You say out of position?

This frequently happens to many a player in many a team.

Where does Lionel Messi play? The attacking midfield or top striker? He plays the former for Barcelona but the latter for Argentina.

With the Azkals, Aly Borromeo plays centerback. But do you know that Aly has also played striker? He has been deployed in that position even on the national team. When he returned to the Kaya line-up after a long injury, they played him upfront and not at the back. At least not initially. So was he out of position? What do you consider his natural position?

Theo Walcott always claimed he was a striker yet Arsene Wenger never played him in that role. Now you have Walcott backtracking and saying, he’s more of a wideout player.

Phil has been used as a forward and midfielder even when he was at Chelsea. Maybe not as deep as he plays now with the Azkals but if he was placed there to play a role like Andrea Pirlo or Steven Gerrard then why not? After all, he can pass.

Yes, Phil is our leading scorer. But if he is tasked to play that it is with good reason. Has it always not worked? We have gotten results before. Not this tournament. Advancing in a group of death only gives us a 25% chance. 25%! Even if Singapore isn’t what it once was, they are still a top side.

People wonder about the defense. You talk about Juani and Rob having no replacements. Some guys were not available. Maybe they shouldn’t have expected guys like Sato and Woodland to play. Maybe there were hoping they would be released but they weren’t.

People wonder about the selection process and its being limited to four teams. Maybe you’re right. But we do not know the decision-making. You talk of familiarity over form? So the other guys were not in form? More often than not, any decision will go with what you know and what you are familiar with. You know what you are getting over something you are not familiar with. In this case, maybe someone on national team duty.

People question the mania for possession saying that tiki taka has died. Last I checked, Barcelona is still the champion. Possession has always been something teams like to play even before Barcelona made it the norm. Just because the fans admire a certain type of play it doesn’t mean they should adopt a certain style of play.

You play a pressing game based on personnel. You do not just implement a system because you think it’s right. Do you have the people to play that?

There are schools of thought about direct football and possession-based football. Sometimes direct football, means not getting the best possible shot. And that means wasting energy and opportunities. Sometimes, possession means not taking shots when you need to. That is now incumbent upon the player to take the shots. If we didn’t retain possession, you’d question that too.

One problem was dribbling too much in traffic when maybe they should have fired and taken chances on pouncing on rebounds and loose balls.

We were competitive in this Suzuki Cup. We put teams on their back heel for the first time ever. Things just didn’t go our way.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

FEU’s win over AdMU: A Game characterized by Desire

This appears in the Monday, November 28, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

FEU’s win over AdMU: A Game characterized by Desire
by rick olivares

The word that can best be described for Far Eastern University’s win over Ateneo to force a Game Two in their semi-finals series is “desire”.

No, this isn’t experience or a veteran leading the way. It’s all about desire. It was about a desire to extend their season and probably defend the championship. Rebounding and defense is all about desire and FEU corralled those categories that cannot be measured totally in statistics.

The Tamaraws scored 36 points inside and only scored 6 points from the perimeter. Their other 20 points came from free throws. That shows a team that went to its strength and game plan.

To illustrate that, Raymar Jose and Prince Orizu killed Ateneo with a combined 14 points and 16 rebounds in that fourth period. All those 14 points were scored in the paint. Jose finished with an incredible 20 points and 23 rebounds. Orizu who was silent for much of the game came alive in the fourth period and he finished with 9 points and 10 boards.

In contrast, Ateneo only had 4 inside points inside with 13 coming from the lower percentage outside in the final 10 minutes of play.

What got Ateneo to the second seed is their faster paced game and willingness to play inside. The result was a six-match win streak before FEU halted it. The Tamaraws slowed the game down to their liking by jamming the outlet and pressuring the ball carriers (exactly what La Salle does). The result was zero fastbreak attempts.

That walk up offense is where Ateneo struggled earlier in the season and it showed this game. It didn’t help that players were turning the ball one after another.

I was shocked that zone notwithstanding, the Blue Eagles opted to throw up shot after shot from the outside. It didn’t help that they hit two consecutive triples and they kept on taking them after.

The half-court set saw FEU go to the stripe 28 times as compared to Ateneo’s poor 15 attempts from the line. Going into penalty situation didn’t help Ateneo’s cause one bit.

The elimination round wins over the Tamaraws were characterized by defense. That was manifested by either winning the rebound battle (second round match) or taking more free throws (first round match) on top of closing that lane (they had more blocks in both games).

Ateneo tends to adjust well heading into the second half and they did, hence the great third period. But like many matches, they aren’t won in the early periods; not unless you race to a 25-plus point lead that will cushion the lapses in concentration.

The poor game of the Blue Eagles’ point guards – Adrian Wong and Matt Nieto – didn’t help at all. They combined for five points, four rebounds, and two assists. The Blue Eagles can sometimes live with that but leadership is crucial. They needed to stabilize the offense and make sense of it, move people around, and make things happen. You could see Raymar Jose not only leading by example but also gathering his team around to talk.

While in conversation with a member of La Salle’s coaching staff a couple of days before the Ateneo-FEU tussle, we agreed that the way to stop Ateneo was to slow the game down. The lack of a strong and reliable four and five-spot player who didn’t depend on gimmes was gonna hurt them. Furthermore, should Thirdy Ravena and Aaron Black attack the basket, defenders are reminded to cover potential receivers for the drop pass.

FEU did just that. And no doubt, they will go back to that for Game Two.

Whoever plays with more desire will go to the finals.