Our first ever AFC Champions League campaign is set to be massive, and one of the teams we’ll be taking on is the Philippines’ United City FC.
Ahead of our first meeting on Monday 18 April, we take an in-depth look at the dominant force in Filipino football whose identity has been entirely transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite being crowned Premiers in each of the past four years – ringing true to their nickname, ‘The Golden Boys’ – United City FC are a relatively new identity within the Philippines Football League, the country’s top-flight competition.
Only founded in 2012, United City didn’t take long to achieve success, winning a national Cup competition in their inaugural season and achieving second-division league success within two years to see them promoted to the top flight. In their first season at the pinnacle of Filipino football, they clinched the league title with two games to spare, securing the all-important result against an opposition by the interesting name of Team Socceroo FC. This marked the beginning of a successful tenure in the first division thus far, with the team finishing second in 2016 before consecutive title wins in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 – the most recent competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The global pandemic brought significant upheaval to the reigning Filipino champions, with the previous owner Leo Rey Yanson affected by COVID’s financial impacts and forced to sell the club to sports marketing firm MMC Sportz Asia. To emphasise the club’s plight, the pandemic triggered a force majeure that saw all player contracts terminated; two-thirds of the squad were later re-signed under new management.
However, legal ramifications following the sale, combined with persisting COVID-19 disruptions, has meant that the club hasn’t participated in competitive football since its Asian Champions League campaign in mid 2021.
Grouped with Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale, South Korea’s Daegu FC and China’s Beijing Guoan, United City did well to finish ahead of the latter, drawing 1-1 on the first matchday before securing a vital 3-2 win in the return leg.
Another implication of COVID-19 and the resulting sale to MMC Sportz Asia was the club’s unique move to an ongoing planned community in Tarlac Province: New Clark City. The project will be the Philippines first ‘smart, green and disaster-free metropolis’.
Spare a thought for fans who’ve purchased United City’s merchandise over the years too ; they’re on track for a fourth name change within their first decade.
The club was founded in 2012 as Ceres-La Salle, but became known as Ceres-Negros when they formed part of the inaugural Philippines Football League competition in 2017. The club became United City upon its COVID-enforced sale in 2020 and intends to soon change its name to United Clark in recognition of its new locality.
Like their fellow 2022 Group G opponent Jeonnam Dragons, this won’t be United City’s first run-in with an Australian side in the Asian Champions League; they beat Brisbane Roar 3-2 in a Preliminary Round in 2018.
Whilst they scraped past Beijing Guoan in the 2021 ACL Group Stage, other results weren’t as kind for fans of the club. The team conceded 24 goals in their six games overall, headlined by 8-0 and 7-0 losses against Kawasaki Frontale and Daegu FC.
Now with Englishman Jason Withe at the helm, there’s no telling how the reigning Filipino champions will look when they eventually meet Melbourne City in the ACL Group Stage. If their victories against Brisbane Roar and Beijing Guoan are anything to go by, it’ll take our very best performance to secure all three points on the night.