Kaya FC struck early and dominated the flow of the match en route to a 1-0 victory over Philippine Air Force Phoenix Saturday in the opening match of the United Football League at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Ivorian forward Eric Dagroh opened the scoring for Kaya, which finished fourth in the season’s Cup competition last December, barely four minutes into the match.
A few moments later, Dagroh appeared to have scored a second goal, which was disallowed because of a foul on Kaya inside the penalty box.
Kaya surprisingly dominated possession of the match, as the Airmen seemed a step slow. Wave after wave of Kaya attacks kept coming in the first half, and only the steady goalkeeping of Air Force veteran Tats Mercado kept his team in the match.
Things did not get better for Air Force in the second half, after elite forward Nate Burkey and Joshua Beloya checked in for Kaya. Burkey and Beloya, along with Dagroh, kept hooking up for opportunity after opportunity, with Mercado barely foiling them each time.
Beloya, the architect of the Philippine Under-23 football team’s miracle comeback against Laos in the Southeast Asian Games last November, acquitted himself well in his league debut, showcasing great skill and instincts.
Air Force, on the other hand, looked visibly frustrated in the match, with Philippine national team stars Chieffy Caligdong and Ian Araneta getting emotional on the pitch. The Azkals stalwarts were shackled by the Kaya defense which controlled the middle of the field for most of the match, leaving Air Force to try to attack from the flanks.
Air Force had still had a great chance for the equalizer late in the match when Caligdong set up for a penalty kick on the left side just outside the box. His bending kick looked like it was about to go in, but a timely header by Jason Sabio saved the goal for Kaya. A follow-up header by Yanti Barsales, the Golden Ball winner in the Cup competition, went wide.
The result seemed like deja vu for Air Force, which suffered only one defeat in last season’s league competition — a 1-0 loss to Kaya.