Armed with more experience playing overseas in the last few seasons, Mark Hartmann and Pika Minegishi make their return to the Philippines, this time linking up with three-time Philipines Football League champion Ceres-Negros.
The Busmen have a busy year ahead starting with the AFC Champions League preliminary stage qualifying and they would need every bit of their depth and quality to go far in Asia’s most prestigious club competition.
That is where Thai League veterans Hartmann and Minegishi are expected to come in as they look to reinforce an already potent attacking force that includes Bienve Marañon, Robert Lopez Mendy and Stephan Schrock.
After impressive stints at Loyola Meralco and Global FC, Hartmann ventured overseas, playing for clubs in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, where he spent the last two seasons.
The 27-year-old earned a recall to the national team last year following strong performances in T1.
A fleet-footed attacker with an eye for goal, Minegishi was once hailed as the best player in the league in the Philippines after leading Global to the UFL crown in 2016.
He has been playing in Thailand since 2018, making his T1 debut at Pattaya United before transferring to Chiangmai United in the second division the following season.
“They (Hartmann and Minegishi) will certainly help the club achieve our goals this season,” said club administrator Nicolas Golez. “It is always tough to maintain or surpass the level every season, but as a club, we are committed to represent club football in the Philippines the best way we can.”
The AFC Champions League group stage has been a target for the Busmen in the past two years. They came close in 2018 when they beat Shan United on penalties in the first phase, before pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the competition by stunning Brisbane Roar, 3-2, in Australia.
But a 0-2 defeat at Tianjin Quanjian in China ended their hopes of qualification. Last year, the Busmen bowed out in the first phase after losing to Yangon United, 2-1, at Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
The Busmen will be playing their Champions League preliminary game this time at Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila on Jan. 14 when they face Shan United anew. A win will send them to the next round against Thailand’s Port FC.
“We are optimistic of a strong showing for the season ahead,” said Golez. “A new season always brings excitement to the players and the fans.”
Photo from UFL Philippines