Sparks Regain League Second Spot With Crucial Kaya Win
The Loyola Meralco Sparks took an important step in taking second place in the 2016 UFL League after a terrific win against their rival, Kaya FC, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. The victory propelled the Sparks to the runners-up position with 40 points and one game remaining.
Before the match started, Loyola were thrown a curveball, as Guilherme Hasegawa injured himself in the warmup. That meant youngster Ace Villanueva would take over goalkeeping duties in the biggest match of his Sparks career.
As expected, the derby needed little time getting into full swing, with both teams looking to get on the front foot early. 18 minutes in, Jason de Jong came extremely close to opening the scoring. Playing in a more advanced role, the midfielder was given space to dribble to right outside the opposition box, where he unleashed a powerful strike which came off the upright. Minutes after, Kaya came close from a set piece, but Eddie Mallari was there to clear it off the line.
25-minutes into the game, the Sparks found the opener. The sequence started with Tahj Minniecon, who fed the overlapping Kouichi Belgira. The youngster brought it all the way to the end line and sent a cross to Phil Younghusband, who obliged with a powerful strike past Matthew Acton.
The remainder of the opening period was controlled by the Sparks, starving Kaya of any significant chances.
Eight minutes after the break, Loyola doubled the advantage. From a set piece, Phil Younghusband sent a ball towards the back post, where Joaco Cañas was all alone to guide the ball into the net. However, Kaya responded almost immediately. From a counter attack, Jovin Bedic chipped the ball past Villanueva and hit the upright. Eric Giganto gobbled up the rebound to ensure a frantic finish to the match.
Kaya looked to take advantage of the momentum swing, but the Sparks defense held firm. A backline of Anto Gonzales, Cañas, Mallari, Belgira, and Villanueva in goal, simply wouldn’t budge despite the best efforts of Robert Lopez Mendy.
With the win, the Sparks moved closer to the goal of qualifying for the 2017 AFC Cup, and head coach Simon McMenemy was clearly pleased.
“That just came out of sheer hard work and effort. The set piece that we were working on worked really nicely, but we had to be able to keep it (the lead) and I think that second goal is crucial. Kaya always come in strong. They always find a way to get back at you,” said McMenemy.
“I’m just very pleased today. The boys held on and deserved everything they got, absolutely everything they got,” McMenemy added.
With this crucial win in the bag, the Sparks will head on to the final game of the campaign against Stallion next week. Should Ceres-La Salle fail to get three points against Global in their next match, a win against Ernie Nierras’ side would guarantee a second place finish in the League, and with it, AFC Cup football next season.