UFL: Some thoughts going into the 2014 League.

O'Donnell. Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

The UFL League kicks off on Saturday. Here are my musings as the league gets underway. The third part of my series on refereeing will run tomorrow, Friday January 10.

Kaya could do Philippine Football a massive favor by handing Nick O'Donnell the starter's gloves. There are some changes in Kaya going into the league, none bigger than the surprising departure of goalkeeper Saba Sadeghi Garmaroudi. No longer will Kaya ultras cheer of “Saba pogi, Saba pogi, Saba pogi, ole ole ole” reverberate around Emperador. Apparently the longtime Kaya keeper and management did not see eye to eye and so the Iranian was shown the door.

This presents a terrific opportunity for O'Donnell, who was Garmaroudi's backup last year. The Fil-Canadian, part of the stillborn U23 Sea Games squad, can now soak up the regular game experience he needs to develop.

The Philippines badly needs Internationally-sized young goalkeepers based in the Philippines. Ed Sacapano is still spry at 33 but younger options will be needed. Neil Etheridge and Roland Muller are both young and very accomplished, but they aren't based here. That makes it difficult for them to play in some friendlies and practically rules them out for Suzuki Cups going forward.

Patrick Deyto of Green Archers United is the great Philippines-based young hope of Pinoy goalkeeping. He has the height, the quick reactions, the booming kick, and all the intangibles needed to be a great keeper. But he lacks just one important thing: competition from other young Filipino keepers in the UFL. The influx of foreign goalies made him the only viable International option in the league, until this development with Kaya.

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Now O'Donnell, if he settles into the starting role at Kaya well, will push Deyto to work even harder for that elusive first Azkals cap.

That is assuming O'Donnell is anointed as the number one. Kaya coach David Perkovic also picked up Mark Sorongon after the Cup. The Santa Barbara, Iloilo native is a veteran who backed up Ref Cuaresma in Sparks then started for Manila All-Japan in the Cup. Sorongon is a highly unorthodox keeper who loves making forays out of his box to clean up loose balls. But when I saw him in the Cup, he got to the ball every single time he made one of those sorties.

Perkovic says Sorongon and O'Donnell will compete for the starting slot, but my guess is that Nick gets the start, with Sorongon stepping into the breech should the Canadian struggle.

One thing that can help whichever goalie Kaya goes with: the imminent return of Aly Borromeo, who has gingerly started training with the team. There is still no timetable for the former Azkal captain's return from his knee issues, but I am told he hopes to be fit in time for the Challenge Cup in May.

Green Archers make few additions. Will it be enough to challenge the big boys? GAU bring in Korean midfielder Jun Soo Park to their side. GAU manager Monchu Garcia says Park, 23, is an imposing physical presence who will help rein in United's reliance on wing play. Park only arrives in the Philippines on January 21, though.

The Globe-sponsored squad also added current DLSU players Greggy Yang and Gelo Diamante to the roster. Both will have to wait until the UAAP season finishes.

Yang is a defender who Garcia says “is very intelligent. He really understands the game.” Diamante, from Davao, could give the Archers some scoring punch as they try to match the big teams in the league and rise above their midpack finish from last year.

GAU bid adieu to central defender Jake Hugo, who decided to enlist with and play for Air Force.

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Global needs to hold the fort while their ace striker recuperates. Izo Elhabbib is hurt and will be out for a month. In his absence Misagh Bahadoran and his mates will have to take up the scoring cudgels for Dan Palami's team.

The UFL's schedulers haven't done them any favors either. The first of Global's three games (the first division will be triple round robin this season) with Loyola take place on Tuesday.

We'll miss Nomads. Manila Nomads volunteered to drop down to the second tier because they preferred not to follow the foreigner cap rule. The UFL is allowing Nomads to field more than five foreigners in the second division as a privilege of being a founding member of the league. Nomads celebrate 100 years of existence this year. It's a shame they cannot be in the top tier but since most of their players have day jobs, the second division, with its Sunday games, really works better for them.

Division 1 Saturday games are a win-win for everyone. In the previous League, the UFL played one Satuday night game a week, with the rest of the matches taking place on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This season it appears there will be two Division One matches every Saturday. This is a fan-friendly move that is welcomed by everyone.

Folks with regular working hours can hardly watch UFL live on weekdays. Plus, getting to Emperador Stadium is a pain if you don't have a car. In fact, it's no picnic even with motorized transport. Saturday games make it easier for fans to show up and enjoy the games in person.

The only caveat: there will be no TV coverage for Saturday games. I hope TV 5 can send a camera crew to shoot highlights that can be posted on Youtube.

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH. You can view the entire league schedule here.