It was like the Philippines Football League (PFL) never left, as top two favorites United City Football Club (UCFC) and Kaya FC each secured 1-0 victories in their respective opening fixtures on Wednesday at the National Training Center in Carmona, Cavite.
UCFC edged past the Azkals Development Team (ADT) in the first contest of the day, with the Ott brothers, Manny and Mike, combining for the first goal of the much delayed 2020 league season.
A disciplined showing from the ADT was undone in the 25th minute after Manny found his younger brother Mike just outside the box. Mike flicked the ball to set himself up for the half volley, which was hit beyond the reach of ADT keeper Quincy Kammeraad.
UCFC boasted 79 percent of possession and limited the young ADT squad to only a single shot in the opening 45 minutes of play, but the young Azkals prospects came out with renewed vigor after the break.
The ADT came out of the half more comfortable with the ball and managed to ask questions of the UCFC defense.
It wasn't smooth sailing towards the end for UCFC, with Manny Ott shown a straight red card in the 84th minute after a dangerous tackle on Simen Lyngbo. With the one-man advantage, ADT forced UCFC keeper Anthony Pinthus into a pair of saves in the waning moments.
UCFC held on against the ADT at the end, but their head coach Frank Muescan was quick to commend the young Azkal hopefuls for their second half resurgence.
"We give credit to the ADT they gave their best. I thought we were going to get them in the first half, but they're so resilient," Muescan said. "They sustained it and gave it all until the last part of the game."
Kaya Iloilo rains on Maharlika Manila debut
Kaya FC matched rivals UCFC with a 1-0 win of their own against newly-minted club Maharlika Manila FC in the evening fixture.
Maharlika was dealt a blow early on in the game with midfielder Serge Kaole forced off the field due to an injury in just the fifth minute.
Despite weathering wave after wave of attacks, it was Maharlika who came closest to breaking the deadlock first after a scramble in the Kaya box saw Charlie Beaton's attempt blocked by center back Carlyle Mitchell in the 22nd minute. MJ Libre also saw his deflected attempt go over the Kaya crossbar four minutes later.
The opener finally came in the 29th minute after a teasing ball zipped into the Maharlika box found its way to Jayson Panhay, who whipped a shot past Bandeken Fong to give Kaya a 1-0 advantage.
The rest of the match saw Kaya squander a catalog of chances to secure the result, but a combination of a stingy defending and the odd chance from Maharlika kept the game on knife's edge.
Kaya did enough to hold on for maximum points in their first outing of the 2020 season, but head coach Yu Hoshide wasn't happy with their finishing.
"Most important thing is the three points, so at least we get the three points. Of course we have to score actually more, we had a lot of chances," Hoshide said. "So next game, hopefully we get a lot of chances and score a lot."
The PFL resumes on Saturday at the same venue with Stallion Laguna taking on Maharlika Manila at 9AM, Mendiola 1991 will try to upset United City at 4:30PM, and Kaya will face the challenge of ADT in the 8:00PM kickoff.