In a rematch of their thrilling UFL Cup semifinals matchup, the Loyola Meralco Sparks again emerged victorious against Kaya FC, defeating their title rivals by a score of 2-0. Even though Kaya was seeking revenge from that semifinal loss, Loyola was not to be denied, grabbing the full three points at stake.
Here are five things we learned from that game.
1. Mark Hartmann’s all-around performance provides another threat for Loyola
The youngest Hartmann has always been known for his superb delivery from dead-ball situations. Even Phil Younghusband has acknowledged that Mark is the Sparks’ best free-kick taker in their team. However, some fans have perceived him to be lacking in speed and industry, and have argued that his contribution to the team is only limited to these set pieces.
Against Kaya, however, Mark put on an all-around display that would not have failed to catch the eye of these Doubting Thomases. Displaying excellent workrate throughout the game to close down opposing attacks, he was usually the first defender for the team. His delivery of the ball was superb and was credited for assisting the two goals for Loyola. No doubt, another number 23 currently plying his trade with the LA Galaxy — a little-known player by the name of David Beckham — will be proud of Hartmann’s efforts.
In addition, Hartmann troubled Kaya keeper Saba Sadeghi all game long with his shots from both his left and right feet. If Loyola were to march all the way to the league title, it is important that Hartmann continue this superlative performance for the team.
2. Saba Sadeghi is Kaya’s first choice goalkeeper — even without a molar
Just a few hours before kick-off, Kaya Coach Juan Cutillas was faced with a huge dilemma: will he play Saba at goal barely a day after having his third molar pulled, or would he put his faith in the young Topher Camcam?
Against fierce rivals Loyola and its fearsome strike force, there could be only one decision. Saba displayed all heart, thwarting many a Loyola attack. Bucking an extremely swollen face and unimaginable pain, the Kaya number one limited the Loyola offense to two goals.
With Camcam deemed too inexperienced to be trusted with a match of this magnitude, Saba came up with a superlative performance in Kaya’s goal. If he had not been substituted in the UFL Cup semifinals against the Sparks, it would not have been too improbable to suggest that it would’ve been Kaya vying for the Cup last December, instead of the Loyola Meralco Sparks.
3. Loyola is finally playing up to its true potential
James Younghusband has been prolific as of late, scoring four goals in the Sparks’ campaign thus far. Taking the captain’s armband this season, the Sparks’ number seven has led by example on the pitch.
Phil Younghusband has chipped in with his usual quota of goals, but more importantly, it seems he is now trusting his teammates and not taking it upon himself to carry the load of scoring for the team.
The only man not to see the light of day in the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, Jake Morallo has justified his place in the starting eleven with some excellent performances on the field. He is fast becoming a perfect foil to the attacking trident of the Younghusbands and Mark Hartmann.
Defense remain a cause for concern, as the Sparks have conceded ten goals in five games so far. But with the players now sharing the ball, the Sparks look particularly dangerous on the field.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Meralco by a long way,” said Phil Younghusband. “The team has only been together a short while and we are still familiarising ourselves with each other. It won’t happen overnight but with more games, you’ll see us getting better.”
Ominous words from the Azkals striker, which does not bode well for the rest of the league.
4. Kaya still needs to improve
Going into the game, Kaya has scored just five goals in total. This, even with the presence of no less than five attacking players in the team in the form of Joshua Beloya, Eric Dagroh, Prince Boley, Nate Burkey and Alu Kigbu. The team’s profligacy in front of goal was there for everyone to see in the opening game against Air Force, and it is this same wastefulness in front of goal that needs to be addressed, and quickly.
With a surplus of strikers, pressure is now on the Kaya’s midfield to provide them with good service. Against Loyola, the midfield trio of Lexton Moy, Masa Omura and Jonah Romero were overrun by the more fluid Loyola midfield. Moy admitted as much after the game. “We were just a bit slow to the ball today,” he said.
From his right-back position, Anton del Rosario was relied upon to create chances for the team. This will entail that Kaya squeezes the action to the opponent’s half of the field, but this will leave them vulnerable to counter-attacks against quick strikers.
On the positive side, Kaya has conceded only four goals in five games, the second-best defensive effort in the league. Perhaps it is now high time to put on those shooting boots and start banging in the goals for a change.
5. Ultras Kaya are the team’s 12th Man
Kaya was totally outplayed on the pitch last Saturday, but on the stands, there was clearly one set of fans that stood out. The rabid supporters of Kaya, who call themselves Ultras Kaya, made their presence heard all throughout the game. They waved flags incessantly and rendered their Kaya version of “Winter Wonderland,” even if their counterparts on the field were losing their battle.
Members of Kaya Ultras even showed the team how it is done, scoring two goals during the LBC Halftime Challenge, which are two goals more than what their team scored that day.
Ryan Fenix is InterAKTV’s resident football analyst. His football column Rampaging Fullback appears exclusively on the site. He runs the football blog The Prawn Sandwich Brigade and covers football for AKTV on IBC. For more football discussion, follow him on Twitter.