by Rick Olivares, InterAKTV
The Loyola Meralco Sparks survived their first acid test of the 2011 UFL Cup by beating Stallions FC, 2-1, in their quarterfinals match at the packed University of Makati pitch Wednesday evening.
Phil Younghusband scored a brace to give his side enough cushion against a tough Stallion team that pulled back a goal late in the second half despite playing with nine men on the field.
From the opening whistle, Stallions, the Iloilo-based eleven, attacked Loyola and dominated the field of play. Pressuring the Sparks at every opportunity, the charges of head coach Ernie Nierras had the league leaders on their heels. They won a corner in the sixth minute and collected a second one after a mistake by Loyola defender Roxy Dorlas.
Still unable to get their passing game going in the 10th minute, Loyola resorted to a long ball, where Younghusband beat two Stallion defenders and keeper Louie Jay Sobrevega but the Sparks’ striker was denied at the goalline by Jake Hugo.
Stallions resumed its aggressive attack and forced Loyola defender Eli Fabraoanda into a poor backpass that forced Sparks keeper Ref Cuaresma to rush out. Unable to corral the ball, it was Loyola team captain Pat Ozaeta who turned back the shot that would have given Stallion an early lead.
In their next offensive, Loyola countered with a combination pass between Younghusband and Jake Morallo but the latter volleyed high over the crossbar.
But the gritty Stallion cub answered in the 27th minute, with an Antonio Albor rocket from 30 yards out that Cuaresma tipped away.
Loyola finally found the mark in the 22nd minute when Younghusband latched onto another long ball and raced inside for a shot. Although Sobrevega was able to stop the shot, there was confusion between the keeper and the defenders on who would clear the ball, and Younghusband quickly pounced in for the slot and the match’s first goal.
He added to the tally in the 35th minute when he headed home a well-placed free kick by Matthew Hartmann following a foul by Stallion defender Jason Cordova.
Cordova, a teammate of Younghusband and Hartmann in the national side in 2008, was carded for the second time in the match by referee Emil Balidio. Cordova admitted to the first foul but vigorously protested a foul that led to the second yellow and a red card that saw Stallion a man down. “Legitimate yung tackle,” argued Cordova. “Bad call. Na-apekto kami doon.”
The match had been rough from the beginning and tempers quickly flared on both sides. Matters degenerated in the second half when Stallion late sub Vincent Braga kicked a ball that Cuaresma had already gotten hold. Cuaresma responded by headbutting Braga, which resulted in the former’s ejection. The Stallion utility player, who sustained a cut above his right eyebrow, was also thrown out as the referee felt that he instigated the incident.
But despite the loss of two players, Stallion valiantly fought on and pulled back a goal when Ruben Doctora Jr., also a teammate of Younghusband and Hartmann in 2008, laid off a perfect pass to striker Joo Young Lee who beat backup keeper Gabriel Vorbeck to make it 2-1 in the 78th minute.
Loyola responded with a near goal by Younghusband but his shot hit the post and ricocheted out.
Nierras rued the spotty officiating and said that his club paid for some bad calls including the one that sent off Cordova. “That’s football, you win some and you lose some,” he said. “But I am proud of my guys because we never gave up and we battled them until the very end.”
Said Loyola assistant coach Vincent Santos: “We expected a rough game with Stallions and we took some hits. It might be costly because we will be missing our starting keeper. It’s a good thing that we have two more keepers in Vorbeck and Jerwin Belina. But as they say, ‘A win is a win.’”
The Sparks advance to the semifinal round where Kaya Cignal FC awaits them.
Photo: AKTV/Jojo Lirio Jr.