LOYOLA Meralco dealt Ceres-La Salle’s title retention campaign an early blow with a thrilling 3-2 victory on Saturday night at the start of the 2016 United Football League (UFL) competition at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Goals from James Younghusband, Curt Dizon and Alvaro Castiella propelled the Sparks past the reigning champions who missed almost half of their regular starting eleven due to injuries.
The Sparks snapped a four-game losing streak to Ceres in a spell that dates back to the league last season.
“We knew that if we worked hard, if we made them work hard and with a little bit of luck, we’ll have a chance,” said Loyola coach Simon McMenemy who is looking to give the Sparks their first league title.
“This is just a strong team performance today. We won this game by working together. We were battling for each other, covering for each other, having each other’s back and that’s what this club is all about.”
Expected to figure prominently in the title race this season, Kaya rolled to a 10-2 demolition of former second division winner Laos FC, while JP Voltes made an impressive top-flight debut by drubbing Pasargad, 6-0.
OJ Porteria, Robert Lopez Mendy and Louis Clark knocked in two goals each, while Joven Bedic, Kenshiro Daniels, Janrick Soriano and Julian Matthews were also on the scoresheet for Kaya.
On loan from Ceres, J Baguioro sparked JP Voltes with his first league hat trick in just 37 minutes. Lendon Marcojos, Takashi Odawara and Alen Angeles also scored for the Japanese-flavored side.
The Sparks were quick to pounce on a Ceres side that looked battle-weary after a midweek AFC Cup match in Malaysia, where it battled Selangor to a scoreless draw to become the first Filipino side to reach the knockout stage of the second-tier continental tournament.
The Sparks, who missed the injured Phil Younghusband and the suspended Jason de Jong, took the lead in the 13th minute through James Younghusband’s cool finish.
Lee Jeong-woo equalized for Ceres five minutes before the break, but Dizon restored the Sparks’ advantage, capitalizing on a defensive mixup in first-half stoppage time.
Stephan Schrock hit the bar and Manny Ott fired a close-range shot just wide, before Castiella made it 3-1 in the 63rd minute.
Schrock’s free kick rattled the underside of the bar before crossing the line to trim the gap, 2-3, with six minutes remaining.
“I feel a little bit for Ceres because they played a lot of games recently and they have a lot of players out because of injuries,” said McMenemy, the former coach of the Philippine team. “But this win is a testament to my players’ handwork.”