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'Copa' set to return by April; PFL '21 set for June start

United City will first defend its Copa Paulino Alcantara title before bidding for a PFL five-peat. PFL (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--A different setup is looming as the PFL is primed up for its 2021 season.

Unlike its usual calendar, the PFL, as announced on Saturday night, will begin its annual festivities this time with the Copa Paulino Alcantara.

It can be remembered that the league cup was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hereby making the second ranked team from last season, Kaya Iloilo, the club that will compete in the qualifiers of this year's AFC Champions League season.

"The league is looking to kick off in April with the Copa Paulino Alcantara," said Cedelf Tupas, the broadcasting and production head of the Philippine Football Federation.

He then said that the PFL may begin its league season "after the June FIFA window."

"The league will be finalizing the date probably in the next couple of weeks," Tupas further announced.

However, the PFL is expected to resume play through a bubble, although the expected arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines by February could lead to some late changes.

During the Professional Sports Summit on Dec. 5, 2020, PFL commissioner Coco Torre said that he is eyeing eight clubs for next season, baring in earlier interviews that some clubs applied for expansion.

Asked for a reaction from the club officials present in the webinar, United City owner Eric Gottschalk said that it would make the players more eager to resume training.

"If we're looking at football, we want to be in practice already because the players cannot afford another several months being out of a job and training, so the earlier we can start, the better," Gottschalk said.

Looking at the new schedule format, he added, "We want to make sure that the format suits everybody."

Gottschalk also believes that having the PFL to come back sooner through the Copa return is necessary especially for United City, Kaya Iloilo, and even the Azkals.

"Paul [Tolentino, Kaya Iloilo's general manager], and I are going to play in Asian competitions. The Azkals are going ahead by the end of May and beginning of June with their [FIFA World Cup] Qualifiers. So if the players have not participated and trained for 5-6 months, it's going to put everybody at a huge disadvantage," he further said.

The AFC has yet to agree on the final ACL calendar, although Tolentino said, "There is a possibility that the qualifier would be played around the middle or the third week of April."

However, despite potentially a short resting period, he said that he is fine with having the Copa by April.

"Starting in April would allow us more preparation and active competition," Tolentino further said.

He added that the AFC may release the final ACL schedule on Jan. 27 during the group draw.

If Kaya Iloilo misses out on the ACL group stages, they will still be playing Asian football this year as the club is already assured of a spot in the AFC Cup group stages.

The ASEAN Zone group stages are scheduled from June 22-28 at a soon to be determined bubble site.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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