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The Twin Towers of DLSL's 2011 Football Team

The high school football team whose season has just ended was not looking particularly promising three years ago; but the arrival of three players in the succeeding months completely changed the shape and potential of the team. The first was Ezekiel Terrones.

Terrones – who I fondly call “Eddie” because of his slight resemblance to Eddie Murphy of the Beverly Hills Cop films – had the slim frame and speed of somebody who I immediately recognized as a player who could become a classic winger. He would develop into a player with neat ball control over the next three years and – already a born fighter – he would also develop the ability to deliver telling crosses as all wingers are expected to do but few really can.

His arrival meant that Alex Hernandez, who used to play on the right wing, could be moved out to the left so that the team now had the luxury of having two players who could hog the lines and deliver the crosses from either flank from which the two strikers could feast upon. In contrast, the class of 2006 – the last fairly strong team prior to this year’s class – had no natural wingers.

The second player – although he had played in the elementary team until a fractured arm that kept him away from the game for a while – was Joseph Victor Medina, who we all simply call JV. As I had written in a previous story, JV’s arrival gave the attack balance and a different dimension. He was not only a player who had the intelligence to play with his back to the goal and feed players who were making runs forward past him; he could also be the arrowhead of the attack when he was facing goal.

His arrival meant that the diminutive Enzo Gherardelli – his striking partner – could either drop down into the hole between the main striker and the midfielders or wander out to the wings so that the natural wingers, in return, could wander inside to take potshots at goal.

The last player to influence how the team would eventually take shape was the lanky Nestor Natanauan. The lad is actually a year younger than most of the other seniors; but even as a young sophomore, he was already tall and long-legged. Although his knowledge of football was next to nothing at all when he first arrived, his bearing alone reminded me a lot of Phil Thompson – one of the greatest of Liverpool Football Club’s many center-half stoppers.

Fortuitously, Nestor was a fast learner. He worked feverishly at his ball control and hardly ever missed training. In less than a year, he had established himself firmly in control of the center-half position beside the other central defender and captain Ted Villanueva. The latter was a goalkeeper in his elementary years; but he was turning out to be such a natural defender that I was damned if I would keep him between the goalposts.

For the first time, perhaps, since the powerful class of 1989 – when Jonathan Casas and Jerry Acosta were the central defenders – we had a pair of tall and authoritative players at the heart of the defense. The late and great Bill Shankly, who built the modern day Liverpool Football Club, used to say that his formula for success was to build down the middle. This is an easy enough concept to adopt; but the problem always is the availability of players to form the spine of a team.

For the LSFC class of 2011, we had exactly that; albeit, this had not always been the case over the years. In attack, JV Medina and Enzo Gherardelli both had sharp predatory instincts. In central midfield, Luis Canlas had the vision to sit back deep in the holding role and then spray passes forward to the strikers or either winger; while Renz Dimaano had the close control and short passing to support the two strikers. In defense, the pairing of Natanauan and Villanueva – which we learned over time to refer to as the “Twin Towers” – was solid as the Great Wall of China.

In fact, when we scrimmaged with the attack facing the defense, the latter more often than not nicked the bragging rights for the afternoon. It was always difficult to pass Natanauan along the carpet; he had such long legs that if he spread them he immediately cut off space for opposing forwards to advance. Playing in the air was hardly advantageous either; Natanauan not only had a good leap – probably gained from his martial arts training before football – his timing was also almost always impeccable.

Anything that got past Natanauan was, more often than not, garbage for Villanueva to sweep away. Not that the latter ever needed to depend on the former. When Natanauan was kept away from the game due to a bout with dengue, the latter practically played central defense by himself. Villanueva was such a strong defender that he was not averse to chasing lost causes. While both were equally adept in the art of defending, the captain was probably the more complete player because he had slightly better ball control along with a better range of passes.

We have had countless competent defenders over the last three decades; but the pairing of Villanueva and Natanauan was the first that I was ever confident enough to send up to the opposing goal for corner kicks. Credit would have to go to the entire team because whoever was asked to cover at the back could cope with the absence of the Twin Towers in case the opposing team tried to break forward quickly. However, the other important reason I started asking the two to move up for corners was that they were not only excellent headers of the ball; they also towered above the defenders of most of the teams we played against.

This ploy became automatic that, whenever the ball crossed the touchline at the opposing end, somebody from among the rest of the players was bound to simply and mundanely shout, “Twin Towers!” And the two would immediately trot forward to take their positions while the smaller midfielders trotted back automatically in the opposite direction… Oh by the way, the pair gave us quite a decent return of goals.

Most of the players in the graduating team have it in them to move forward as football players; but if I were to nominate any to one day play for the Azkals, it would have to be the Twin Towers. No disrespect to the other players; but in the real world of international football, height is no small consideration at all. To the rest, there is probably hope yet in Cherifer.

And if either of the Twin Towers is reading this, just keep your feet on the ground and do not ever let your heads get swollen. Other than that, your futures are in the palms of your hands.

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