MANILA, Philippines – Camille Rodriguez expressed delight with the growth of women’s football in the country after her Kaya FC-Iloilo beat Manila Digger for its maiden crown in the PFF Women’s League.
Top seed Kaya FC scored a 1-0 win over Manila Digger in the finale on Saturday, November 11, to rule the Women’s League that returned to action after being shelved for two seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It fills my heart with so much joy to see everyone still playing, still wanting to play,” said Rodriguez, a national team veteran.
“This finals is a good sign that football in the Philippines really is growing. It’s the first time that we have a new [club] champion, it’s the first time that two club teams are the ones in the championship, when historically, it’s always been the UAAP teams.”
La Salle reigned in the first three seasons, with UST and FEU alternating runner-up finishes.
Kaya FC, though, proved to be the superior team this season as it boasted a stacked lineup that also featured MVP Shelah Cadag, Best Midfielder Charisa Lemoran, Inna Palacios, Sara Castañeda, Irish Navaja, and Kyra Dimaandal.
Finishing the elimination round as the top seed, Kaya FC dethroned the La Salle Lady Booters in the semifinals and then outlasted Manila Digger in the championship match.
Despite falling short of the crown, Manila Digger still impressed in its first-ever season as it claimed the third seed then escaped second seed FEU Lady Tamaraws via penalties in the semifinals to set up a title clash with Kaya FC.
Team captain Mea Bernal led Manila Digger together with Elna Bongol, Maria Angela Fornea, Jean Kadil, Roselle Lecera, Hannah Pachejo, and Kaye Ysola.
As another season came to a close, Rodriguez said the local scene can still reach new heights.
“[We] just need more financial backing, better structure to be able to play, and really elevate Philippine football,” said Rodriguez.
Kaya FC head coach Marnelli Dimzon doubled down on Rodriguez’s sentiments, using Manila Digger as an example as it excelled despite being league debutants.
“That’s because of the support they receive from their manager. That’s the best way to support women’s football, to have more clubs join, and then there are stakeholders who invest in football,” Dimzon said in a mix of Filipino and English.
Rodriguez and Kaya FC hope to be invited to the AFC Women’s Club Championship, a continental tournament that involves the top clubs from countries affiliated with the Asian Football Confederation.
“We don’t want to stop here, we want to go to the next level, which is the AFC Club Championship, and even further,” said Rodriguez.
“We want to be as competitive as possible and really set the bar high for club football.”
Rodriguez relished a whirlwind 2023 as she started the year playing club football in Spain and India before she returned home, joining the Filipinas in the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, and then capping it off by winning a title with Kaya FC.
“This year has really been so meaningful and so eventful to me, so I’m happy to finish it at home,” said Rodriguez.
“I guess I wanna say I’m not yet done, I’ll still keep playing, and I’m excited to keep being better ’cause being better means giving back to the homegrown here in the country.” – Rappler.com