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Ahead of tough homestretch, Nierras not thinking about PFL playoffs yet

Mark Cristino/Stallion Laguna FC (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--League table-wise, the race for the last PFL playoff spot is tight right now.

But for Stallion Laguna Coach Ernie Nierras, it's still too early to tell.

"We have nine more games that we have to play. [The recent wins are] nothing yet until we get to that point where we're challenging for a playoff spot. It's still a long season," Nierras said.

Laguna, currently in sixth place at 23 points, is just four points behind Marikina for the last seat in the Final Four, and both sides will face off on Saturday night at the Biñan Football Stadium in Biñan as part of a rare triple-header that will kick off simultaneously at 4 p.m.

However, the said match will start Laguna's dreaded final push to the Final Four where the club will take on the top five teams in the standings and the now star-studded Davao.

"We're playing Davao [three] times, Ceres [Negros] twice, and we still have Global [Cebu], JP Voltes [Marikina], Kaya [Makati], and Meralco [Manila]," Nierras bared the remainder of Laguna's calendar.

The other main storyline of the Laguna-Marikina match is the striking showdown between Jhan-Jhan Melliza and Takumi Uesato.

Melliza's four-goal showing in Laguna's 5-0 rout of Ilocos on Sunday night, which Nierras considers "a morale booster," put him at a tie against Uesato at the top of the scoring list with 12 goals each, implying that the match will have huge impact in the Golden Boot race since this will be the last meeting between both sides. Uesato remained stuck at 12 as he was scoreless in Marikina's 1-0 win over Makati later Sunday with Masaki Yanagawa credited for the match's only goal.

Speaking of Negros, the other team in the race for number four will also see action as the club heads to the Rizal Memorial Stadium to take on Davao in what will count as the latter's home game.

The said match is supposed to take place in Tagum, but the game was instead moved here due to a quarterly maintenance check at the Davao Del Norte Sports Complex's electrical system as what Davao media officer Charmaine Cruz told Dugout Philippines.

The venue tweak puts the Younghusband Brothers in an interesting situation as they will play a home game at Rizal Memorial for the first time since leaving Manila for Davao.

Negros can move up to fourth place with a win plus a non-win by Marikina.

Manila will travel to Cebu in the other Saturday night match.

While the battle between the top two sides will have little effect in the race for number one since Manila is comfortably ahead in the league table, it may give huge implications in the race for number two as a non-win by Cebu will open a possibility for Makati, who will travel to Bantay to face Ilocos on Sunday night, to steal second place.

Still, Manila coach Aris Caslib looks at the match with huge importance as the club will now try to preserve the top seed in the semis.

“Everyone knows the September campaign is crucial and it starts with the game against Global Cebu. Everyone has to step up and focus,” said Caslib.

The other storyline in the game is the first head-to-head battle between Cebu striker Rufo Sanchez and Manila defender Joaco Cañas, who were teammates with Inter Madrid from 2011-2012 and Laguna from 2012-2013.

“It's gonna be entertaining and very different to play against him,” says Cañas. “We have never faced each other except in training. It will be nice to share a football field again with him even while defending different colors. But for sure it will get rough and we both will fight for the win as we have always done.”

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno