By Karlo Sacamos
LOYOLA Meralco had to go through anxious moments before escaping a pesky Pachanga side, 3-2, on Thursday night in the United Football League at the Emperador Stadium in Taguig.
Realizing they still have a lot to improve on for their Singapore Cup quarterfinal match against Home United, the Sparks almost squandered a three-goal lead as they saw Pachanga threaten before holding on.
Phil Younghusband, Sam Bonney, and Park Bo Bae emerged the goalscorers for the Sparks, who regained solo second place ahead of Kaya FC with 43 points in 21 matches, while keeping their victims in sixth spot with 26 points.
More than the development, the Sparks, who are virtually eliminated from the title race, are looking ahead to their Singapore Cup campaign.
“We really just want to see how we can prepare for Singapore more than just the UFL,” said Sparks coach Vince Santos, whose team is coming off a 7-1 thrashing of Champasak in the Singapore Cup group stage last weekend.
The Sparks conjured several chances that lacked the cutting edge, before Park finished a team goal to finally unlock the Pachange defense 38 minutes into the game.
Bonney doubled the lead seven minutes into the second half before Younghusband gave the Sparks a 3-0 lead in the 73rd.
“Had we been more clinical with our finishing, that should’ve been four, five, six-nil,” Santos said.
Instead, Pachanga mounted a comeback, starting with a Shayan Jafari strike in the 77th minute, before a sublime curling free-kick conversion from Nate Burkey five minutes before stoppage time pulled his quad within a goal against a Sparks squad without suspended top goalkeeper Baba Sampana.
Then replacement ‘keeper Ricardo Padilla suffered an injury that halted play for more than five minutes - a break which Pachanga rued halted their momentum.
“’Yun yung crucial kasi na-stop yung momentum namin,” Pachanga coach Noel Marcaida said. “I had the feeling na kung tuloy-tuloy lang ‘yun, makukuha namin yung pangatlong goal.”
“We just fell short,” he added. “Although hindi naming nakuha yung pangatlong goal, I was happy with the character of our team.”