Ravaged by injuries, the absence of UAAP-committed players, and a suspension to Adam Mitter, the Loyola Meralco Sparks had only 14 players available to face Pasargad on Saturday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. Despite the handicap, however, a goal from the captain, and hat-tricks from both Alvaro Castiella and Tahj Minniecon carried the team to its first win in the 2016 UFL Cup.
From the onset, the intention was clear from Simon McMenemy’s side, with the midfield and forward lines pressing extremely high. After defeat against Ceres-La Salle in the opener, the Sparks were determined to get the campaign back on track in style. New signing Alvaro Castiella got the ball rolling in the 15th minute, displaying his clinical nature with a confident finish after being released into a one-on-one with the opposition keeper.
Minniecon then doubled the advantage in fine fashion, smashing in from the edge of the area after Jorrel Aristorenas had cleverly cushioned the ball into his path. The third came soon after, with the Spaniard picking up his second. Kouichi Belgira, who was again outstanding on the left flank, dribbled his way to the end line, before carefully picking out Castiella for the tap in.
Five minutes from half-time, it was Jason de Jong who executed a similar play, with Minniecon at the end of the move to tap in. Four goals ahead and cruising, the Sparks perhaps got a bit too comfortable, as Pasargad pulled one back right before the break.
It would be the only blemish to what was a game of complete control from the Loyola Meralco Sparks, who picked up the intensity again in the second half. Only six minutes had elapsed before Minniecon completed his hat-trick with a delightful curling effort. Aristorenas and Curt Dizon had linked well at the edge of the area, and the Australian made no mistake when presented with space to shoot.
James Younghusband, who was deployed as a makeshift center back on the evening, then joined the scoring, capitalizing on some lax defending from a free-kick to push the lead to five. Castiella completed the scoring rampage a minute later, adding a third to his tally and the seventh for the Sparks.
With more than 30 minutes still to play, Loyola carved out multiple opportunities to push the lead even further, but the efforts were either ruled out for offside, saved by the keeper, or just off target.
Despite the disappointment of not being able to maximize goal scoring chances, the Sparks still walked away with a comfortable three points, on an evening when the roster was almost down to its bare bones.