This article appeared on the Busmen Review, the official magazine of Ceres-Negros FC, on the eve of the PFL Final with Global Cebu FC
The season has been unlike any other in the existence of Ceres-Negros. An extended campaign in the AFC Cup netted the first ever Asean zonal championship. But it also meant that the Busmen were left with plenty of catching up to do in the Philippines Football League, which was in full swing at around the time Ceres-Negros was also making its mark in the AFC Cup. Already assured of an AFC Cup spot, the Busmen are out to cap the year with the first PFL trophy against a worthy foe in Global Cebu. We look back at Ceres-Negros’ impressive run to the PFL finals.
The Regular Season
The early part of the season saw mixed results for the Busmen. The Negros squad’s focus was on making a deep run in the AFC Cup. Fresh from qualification to the knockout stage after winning over Tampines Rovers in Singapore, the Busmen opened their season with a 1-1 draw against Kaya Makati.
The team played only its second match in the league a month later when it hosted rival Global Cebu in their first home match in Bacolod City where they prevailed, 1-0. They were given a rude awakening in their third league match weeks later after succumbing to a 2-1 loss versus JPV Marikina just after the June FIFA break.
With a gap in the AFC Cup, Ceres-Negros would go on to play seven league games which were highlighted by a slim 0-1 away loss in Cebu and a 7-0 victory over erstwhile league leaders FC Meralco Manila.
Days removed from being the crowned the ASEAN champions of the AFC Cup, the Busmen overcame Kaya Makati, before absorbing a stunning 1-2 loss to Meralco at Panaad, which remains their only home loss of the season so far.
After earning four points in two away games versus Davao, Ceres would go on a four game stretch at home with the battle for the final four heating up. Stephan Schrock rescued the team with a scintillating strike against Global at home.
Ceres-Negros played its most controversial match with Kaya in mid-October with the 10-man squad earning a hardfought 3-2 victory over the Makati side. An equally interesting match was played days later when JPV Marikina fought to a 2-2 draw at Panaad, which actually booked the Busmen’s place in the Finals Series.
With qualification already in the bag, the Busmen strolled through their remaining games against Meralco and Global, which handed them a 2-0 loss in their final regular season match. The Busmen thus finished the season in second spot behind Meralco Manila, which meant that they face Kaya in the semifinals.
Ceres-Negros travelled to Makati for the first leg, where Schrock produced a touch of magic to give the Busmen the edge. Just minutes after watching Robert Lopez Mendy get denied by thecrossbar, the Busmen celebrated a Schrocky outside-the-boot strike in stoppage time.
Kaya vowed a comeback at Panaad, but it was the Busmen who took the lead in the 31st minute thanks to a well-placed header from Bienvenido Maranon. The goal calmed the nerves of the home supporters, but the visitors grabbed a lifeline through Woody Ugarte, who scored just before halftime.
After dodging a couple of bullets none bigger than the chance from Jordan Mintah that rolled just wide off Roland Muller’s post, another piece of quality from Iain Ramsay finally put the outcome beyond doubt for Ceres. Finding himself at almost the same spot where he struck the opening goal against Tampines Rovers in the AFC Cup, Ramsay picked up a weak clearance and chipped the ball towards goal with his weaker foot. The ball sailed gracefully over a retreating keeper and dipped just in time under the bar, sparking wild celebrations. With the 3-1 aggregate win, Ceres punched its ticket back to the AFC Cup and moved into the final of the PFL.
Ceres-Negros went on to make history by clinching the inaugural Philippines Football League title with a 4-1 victory over Global Cebu FC.