Yoro Sangare

‘For Yoro’: How A Tragedy Inspired the UP Men’s Football Team To Win It All

Yoro Sangare was supposed to be UP’s next big football star until his untimely passing last year. But, he was still very much a part of the team’s surprise UAAP title run this year.

The day started out like any other game day for UP men’s football team players Francis Tacardon and Macky Tobias.

It was May 4, 2023, and the team was preparing for its final match of UAAP Season 85 against the eventual champions FEU Tamaraws. Their season was on the line; anything less than a win would eliminate them from Final Four contention.

Season 85 had been a challenge for the team. They drew more matches than they won as they struggled with their finishing and were on the outside looking in chasing a playoff berth.

And so, as two of the vital cogs on the team, Francis and Macky readied themselves for what they figured to be a dogfight against the Tamaraws.

Tacardon remembers what he was doing when his phone rang.

“I was home preparing for the FEU game,” he told The GAME. “Legit, I really just got out of the shower because I got a call from (student manager) Stella (Alcudia) saying, ‘Yoro collapsed. What should I do?’”

“Yoro” was Yoro Sangare, the Fighting Maroons’ prized foreign student-athlete from Mali who was a gifted striker. Although he was on the Season 85 roster, he had yet to play after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in a preseason game a month before the tournament started.

While walking outside his dorm, Sangare suddenly collapsed. Tacardon told Stella to stay with Yoro and bring him to the nearest hospital, which in this case was the UP Health Service just across the street. Afterward, Francis and his brother, Florence, rushed out of their house to be with their fallen teammate.

“While we were rushing, me and my brother, paalis na sana kami,” Francis recalled. “Tumawag ulit si Stella, saying that he passed away.

Napatigil kaming dalawa. Sinabi ko sa kapatid ko, ‘Wala na si Yoro.’ We just really stopped. We were silent for more than a minute.”

Tobias was also in the shower when his roommate knocked.

Kumatok yung roommate ko, teammate ko, na si Otep Huelva, na ayun, nagbalita siya na, ‘Si Yoro, wala na. Puntahan natin.’ Tapos yun, habang naliligo ako, naiyak talaga ako.”

It would be determined later that Yoro Sangare had suffered a heart attack. He was rushed to the UP Health Service, but it was too late. He was only 22.

The UAAP gave UP the option of postponing their match against FEU. The team discussed it, but in the end, postponing was never really an option.

“It was simple,” Tacardon said. “Our captain last year, Karl Bugayong, sabi niya lang na, if nandito si Yoro, ano yung gusto niyang gawin natin? Simple. And then, it was a unanimous decision from the team. Nung tinanong kami, ‘Do you want to play?’ We all said yes.

“Dahil sa sinabi ni Karl, it was a must-win game and we wanted to dedicate that game to Yoro din.”

Pinush through talaga namin yung game kasi alam namin na kaya namin, ready kami noong araw na yun, and basically, in-offer lang talaga namin yung game na yun para kay Yoro,” said Tobias, who succeeded Bugayong as team captain for Season 86.

As it turned out, the Fighting Maroons could only manage a draw against the Tamaraws, causing them to miss the Final Four boat by a point.

New kid in town

Tobias remembers the day he first saw Yoro Sangare. It was 2019, his freshman year in Diliman, when he noticed a new face at practice.

“First year ako, nagta-tryout na yun si Yoro,” he said. “Sumasali na sa training namin, regular trainings. Gulat ako na, ‘O, may foreigner na sumasali ha. Ano ito, gusto niya bang mag-UP?’”

It didn’t take long for the newcomer to make an impression.

Unang meet ko sa kanya, grabe talaga yung pinakita niya sa trainings namin,” Tobias recalled. “Grabe, doon pa lang, first year pa ako nito, 2019, doon pa lang, world class na siya maglaro.”

Tobias also recalls Yoro encountering a language barrier.

Hindi pa siya marunong mag-English masyado noon. So, sinabihan siya nina Coach Anto (Gonzales), Coach Poy (Clarino) na matuto muna mag-English tapos balik siya para puede siyang kunin. Tapos, sa sobrang dedicated niya na tao, grabe yung dedication niya na pumasok sa UP and mag-football, nag-aral talaga siya ng English. Tapos ayun, mabilis lang. Next year, bumalik agad siya na marunong na siya mag-English. Tapos naging part na siya ng team.”

Yoro Sangare officially joined the team in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Training back then was limited to Zoom sessions, but even in this setting, he showed his dedication.

“You could see na every training na he was really working hard,” Tacardon said. “He was really, parang, very active, na parang, hindi siya online training. Kasi we all know online training, it’s so much different than face-to-face training. But kita mo yung dedication ni Yoro, it really inspired us, noon pa lang. So, and then, nung nakabalik na kami sa training last year, same. Nagpupush si Yoro, even though he was already the best player on the field. Siya pa rin yung pinaka-hardworking. So, it really inspired us to push, push, and work harder.”

Tobias said a scale of 1 to 10 wouldn’t be enough to describe Yoro’s skill level. “Lalagpas siguro ng 10. Grabe yun. Halimaw kasi yung work ethic niya, tsaka yung disiplina sa sarili. Grabe, grabe talaga.”

The Fighting Maroons were heading into Season 85 full of optimism. They hadn’t won a men’s football title since Season 80, but with Yoro onboard, they had been crushing it in several preseason games.

Unfortunately for Yoro and the team, he suffered that ACL tear that effectively knocked him out of Season 85. To say that it was a big blow for Fighting Maroons is a gross understatement.

“At first, siyempre, malungkot siya kasi it was a month away from UAAP na yata nung na-ACL siya,” Tarardon said. “So, medyo gutted siya. Pero, (he was a) very hardworking person. So, tuloy-tuloy siya mag-rehab talaga.

“That’s why, hindi nag-hesitate sila coach Anto, sila coach Popoy last year to still put him in the lineup kahit na-ACL siya. Kasi grabe yung workout niya.”

There is no doubt in the minds of Tacardon and Tobias that UP would have been celebrating back-to-back titles last week if Yoro had played last season.

“Hundred percent. Hundred percent,” Tacardon said. “I think last year, we really missed a striker, a scorer. Kasi, throughout the preseason, laging si Yoro taga-goal namin. So we missed that.

Ang laking factor talaga for me, I think, yung pagkawala ni Yoro. It’s his dream to play in UAAP, for one. Tapos mag-champion, siyempre.”

Adds Tobias: “For sure, for sure. Andun siya, lalaro siya walang injury last season, tsaka this season, pag andun siya, for sure champion. Kasi si Yoro, grabe talaga. Sobrang, wala akong masasabi, talented na bata, sobrang talented.”

Talented as he was, Yoro’s shocking death impacted the team off the field as well. He was universally well-liked by everyone for his attitude and demeanor.

“When he passed away, siyempre, all of a sudden, it was a big shock to us,” Tacardon said. “Kasi ang laking tulong niya sa team in terms of sa football, and kahit sa labas, kakain kami, jokes, ganyan, kahit hindi siya nakakaintindi ng Tagalog, grabe talaga siya makipag-halubilo sa amin.”

Francis Tacardon (no. 15) and his teammates mob team captain Macky Tobias. (UAAP Media Bureau)

Before each match in football, teams pose for the customary starting XI group photo. For all 14 such photos in Season 86, the Fighting Maroons made sure to hold up Yoro’s no. 61.

“He’s really still one of us,” Tacardon said. “Hanggang ngayon. We’ll never forget him. Kasi, we all know, the team knows he’s been guiding us from above. Lahat nung mga iniwan niya sa amin, tinutuloy namin. It’s just fair na isama siya sa mga team picture after everything.”

The Fighting Maroons drew inspiration from the memory of Yoro for the whole tournament, and while they didn’t necessarily blow away the field (they did suffer three losses), there was a steady improvement that culminated in a masterful 1-0 win over the defending champions Tamaraws on May 16.

And even though they were never able to utilize Yoro’s scoring prowess, it turned out they had a talented goal scorer all along: Tacardon was named Best Striker as well as Most Valuable Player.

In the final, though, it was the captain Tobias who scored the winning goal off a penalty kick in the 50th minute after Tacardon was taken down in the penalty box.

The Fighting Maroons’ defense took care of the rest, and as the minutes ticked down towards the university’s 19th men’s football title, Tacardon couldn’t help himself.

“Actually, even before the final whistle nga, nagsi-celebrate na ako,” he said. “Kasi, I knew it was time na, eh. Macky was just composing me. Sabi niya, ‘Hindi pa tapos yung laro!’”

“But I was like, ‘Nah, it’s done. Panalo na tayo.’”

Tobias was still shaking his head when he recalled his teammate’s early celebration.

Nung game, nagsi-celebrate na siya. Lumapit na siya sa akin – in-game pa ito ha, in-game – lumapit siya sa akin.

Sabi niya, ‘Macky, champion na tayo!’ Tapos sabi ko, ‘Anong champion? Wala pa, wala pang whistle. Hindi pa tapos yung laban. Tuloy lang, ano ka ba?’ Ginaganun ko siya. Tapos yun, sabi ko sa kanya, ‘Wala pa, hindi pa tapos. Wala pang whistle.’

Kasi celebrate na siya. Dami pang mangyayari niyan, kahit seconds lang, sa football. Dami talaga mangyayari niyan. Kahit split seconds lang, pagtulog ka, wala.”

Thankfully for the team, the referee finally blew the whistle. The UP men’s football team were once again UAAP champions.

The UP Men’s Football Team celebrate their title while Francis Tacardon shows off his MVP trophy. (UAAP Media Bureau)

“Very, very, very happy,” Tacardon said when asked about his reaction. “I wish I could relive that moment talaga.”

Naturally, the players’ thoughts soon turned to their fallen teammate.

“As his brother in the field, we wanted his dream to come true,” Tacardon said. “So, pinush talaga namin sarili namin. We really worked hard. The smallest details, inayos namin para makuha namin yung dream ni Yoro.”

“Every game, kay Yoro dinedicate namin,” Tobias said. “Simula start ng season na ito, hanggang sa finals. So para sa kanya talaga ito, yung championship na ito.

Sobrang saya. I don’t know, mixed emotions na, parang it means everything talaga na nag-champion talaga kami sa collegiate level. Tapos FEU pa yung kalaban na malakas din. Defending champs. Mixed emotions, mixed emotions. Yung na-feel ko nun, masaya na parang

Malungkot din. Kasama sana namin si Yoro.”

Banner from the UP Men’s Football Team. Article Images from UAAP Media Bureau.

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