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UPL Preview: Another season for Onduparaka to hang in there

By Shafic Kiyaga
Onduparaka fans have stood with their team from the time they gained promotion to the league in 2015 | Onduparaka picture.

They arrived at the big stage three seasons ago with much optimism and anticipation, but that seems to have gone down a spiral ever since. However, one thing remains constant and that is always making the top five of the league.

Onduparaka have resided close to the title chasers for long without never mounting any serious title challenge and it should be frustrating for their fans. One thing they can hope for is an opportunity to take advantage of any chaos at the top of the table to wiggle their way past the front runners.

If Onduparaka had something of a wasted season last term, at least they ended it with optimism after parting ways with Asaph Mwebaze midway last season, they have gone for a familiar face.

Livingstone Mbabazi returns for a second stint. A manager well-suited to their group of emerging, attack-minded players and who should bring more home wins.

And it seems the top brass at the club have finally bought into the idea of re-building as they plan to evolve from contenders for all seasons. With the proceedings at the club, it would be mad to expect better than the previous season.

Onduparaka will start live without Rashid Toha who has moved on to Vipers SC / Courtesy Photo

But this team could surprise us with even better. The caterpillars have a squad full of energy, invention, and versatility, and they should threaten the elite this season even without Rashid Toha and Vianney Ssekajjugo who joined Vipers and Wakiso Giants respectively.

Mbabazi has the tools and knows how to build on the useful work done by his predecessor, Mwebaze. He showed just how much rot was inhibited within the squad especially in the senior players. And thankfully the club acted rightly by letting them go despite their status in society.

Mbabazi also left with similar sentiments the first time but he is better armed this time. And for a start, he may well have found the solution to the riddle that has stumped Onduparaka for much of the past season.

The Green Light Stadium has been quite a fortress for them since 2016 and their home form is the reason, they finished quite high. Sixty-five percent of their points came at home but two home loses is a worrying statistic especially that they lost half of that in the previous two seasons.

On the pitch though, he will have to bring back a bit of fear factor and respect to the club. The club coyd against the top sides losing five times and drawing thrice against the top four sides. Including losing to Police, Nyamityobora, and Maroons three of the bottom six sides.

Striker Ceasar Okhuti (R) is one of the senior players in the side, his experience will be needed if they are to remain competitive / KCCA FC Images

Ssekajjugo and Gadafi Gadinho’s departure leaves a gap in their attacking front with Ceaser Okhuti the only potent goal source. A striker whose game revolves around raw pace and brute strength can feel insurmountable to the ageing process.

But teams have become fond of his game and the cause of headache for Mbabazi will be how does he set up against teams that set up to stop play and delivery to Okhuti.

The answer according to Mbabazi is to give Okhuti better support while also developing an attack with more cusps. Youngster Salim Abdullah is ideally suited to succeeding in that role.

Abdallah gives Mbabazi more options because he can play either out wide or behind Okhuti, in either role, he is clever enough to find the space and deadly enough to finish most chances.

Onduparaka’s major signing is likely to prove more valuable. Vitalis Tabu has the capability of becoming a top player, but his temperament has often let him down. He had a good start at URA before he suddenly lost favor with Ssimbwa for whatever reason.

If the forward can consistently produce the form he showed while at SC Villa, then Onduparaka will be uplifted by one of the finest playmakers in the league. His vision and passing can enable them to unhinge defenses with faster and less predictable attacks.

Committing to stifling Tabu may prove suicidal as it accords more freedom to Ondu’s other mischief-makers particularly Gaddafi Wahab and Oscar Agaba or youngster Joel Jangeyambe, who can be expected to shred many defenses and to develop more composure in front of goal.

Yet one unresolved question about ‘Ondu’ is how will they defend given that Toha has left? Toha a major feature in their defense since 2015 when they gained promotion has left for Vipers and how do they replace him matters a lot. He was not at his best last season but was highly influential as the captain, a useful carrier and distributor of the ball as well as a formidable stopper not to mention set pieces.

His aerial prowess was one of the reasons the caterpillars conceded the third-lowest goal tally in the league last season. But his loss could be mitigated by Dudu Ramadan who despite being nimble on the ball as Toha is solid and injury-free.

Indeed, there is cause for Onduparaka to sign a top-quality center back but the club seems to rely on those available with Alex Gasper, Rashid Okocha, Simba Sabir and Richard Ayiko all staying on at the club. In goal at least, there are no doubts; Backer Yunus has proven to be a sound deputy for Nicolas Ssebwato.

For all the negatives around Onduparaka’s chances for this upcoming season, it’s possible that enough things don’t break their way and the 2019/2020 season amounts to another run of the mill season in the 40-45-point range.

On the other hand, it’s hard to deny there is a tantalizing upside that exists for the Caterpillars, however skeptical one might be of them realizing it. Does the talent within fit well to go along with enough competent depth required to withstand the rigors of the season?

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