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7's Football League going international in return

As the Philippine residents await for the time the 7's Football League makes its return locally, the league is set to kick off overseas later this year. 7's Football League (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--The 7's Football League is back, and this time, it's going international.

After getting stalled for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the premier seven a side football event is making a return to action this year with five legs happening outside the Philippines.

In an online press conference on Friday, league founder Anton Del Rosario said that his passion project will now expand to the United States, particularly the state of California, and Brunei for this year especially with both countries already easing up their pandemic protocols.

"The 7's wanted to find ways to be able to keep relevant and busy and still maintain growth to be able to also support the 7's here in the Philippines, so with that, we were able to secure several locations where we will be launching the 7's in July," Del Rosario said. "I wanted to show that we are looking to build football across borders."

He added that going international is actually one year in the making as the league was already gearing up for its global invasion last year if not for the pandemic.

"Unfortunately, no football was going on, and we had to pause everything," Del Rosario rued the shelved 2020 plans.

Brunei, which has been keeping the COVID-19 situation under control for a long time already, was the first to inquire for holding its own 7's Football League with Faezal Murni leading the way.

"We are very excited to go and launch the 7's here in Brunei," Murni said, even baring that they actually set a venue for exclusive use of the league.

Meanwhile, the American franchises, according to Del Rosario, were something that came in sooner than expected.

"This was supposed to come later by growth and development, but with the pandemic, it gave me an opportunity to be able to look at the States and what we will be able to do at the West Coast," Del Rosario added.

Del Rosario's longtime friend, Mike Sharabi, chimed in and said, "California is really a hotbed for soccer at the youth and adult levels, and we've been really thinking about a big opportunity to grow the sport.  The 7's is an exciting game, and people are looking for something new."

Eventually, two events will be put up in the San Francisco Bay Area with Sharabi one right at the heart of the metropolitan San Francisco area and Del Rosario's former college teammate, Gabe Cienfuegos, managing the other at the eastern side of the bay.

Cienfuegos' league is more of a partnership with Del Rosario as Cienfuegos is already running a seven a side league since 2019 with Del Rosario stepping in to officially make it a part of the 7's Football League umbrella.

"We're really looking forward to bringing it to the Bay Area and really think that it can be big," Sharabi further said, adding that he and Cienfuegos are looking at a possibility of incorporating both their leagues for a possible East Side vs. West Side showdown.

Another 7's Football League will also happen in two locations in Los Angeles with Del Rosario's former Azkals and Loyola teammate James Younghusband taking charge of it.

"Football is still in my blood, and I still wanna help out after I retire from playing," Younghusband shared his motivation to put up the league in Hollywood.

Del Rosario said that he prefers calling Murni, Cienfuegos, Sharabi, and Younghusband "partners" of his league.

"All of these guys have come on board as part of the family, and they're all in this just like I am," Del Rosario explained. "It's theirs to own."

Locally, Del Rosario said that he is maintaining the 7's Football League as a semi-pro league, seeing this as a "foundation for our leagues."

"Without a foundation, it can't be sustainable," he said about the pro leagues.

However, with a Department of Health circular clearing the semi-pros to push through with their leagues, Del Rosario is now looking forward to finally resume the Philippine games in cities under the lightest quarantine restrictions.

"As soon as it would be allowed in each of these locations, we will be looking to start off," he further said. "The people are dying to play. The demand is there."

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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