Kaya left winger Jonathan Romero took aim with his corner and fired away. The ball found an unmarked Lexton Moy mere feet away from the Team Socceroo goal, but the Kaya midfielder’s finish was terrible. The Filipino-American from New York City put his hands on his head as a sign of disgust.
A few minutes later, it was Kaya forward Eric Dagroh’s turn to assist a teammate with a nifty throughball, but Masa Omura’s blast was too wide to be of any threat.
In Socceroo’s offensive, one of their few, team captain Mike Reyes found Zaydan Timpani with a throughball of their own, but Kaya keeper Russel Pierson rushed out to boot the ball out of harm’s way.
That was the story of the first half of the Round of 16 match Saturday between Kaya and Team Socceroo at the University of Makati, with the former launching attack after attack to no avail while the latter, in its stirring UFL Cup debut, was proving to be stingy on defense and frightening on offense despite their poor buildup.
After 45 minutes of play, Kaya head coach Juan Cutillas was unable to hide his fury. He railed at his team for their shockingly sluggish and poor play. He accused his team of waiting for Socceroo to make a mistake then pouncing on them on the counter. While Kaya had dominated possession, its finishing was terrible, and Cutillas realized that it will only take one mistake on defense for his team to pay.
The Spaniard had benched forward Nate Burkey and defender Anton del Rosario after the two left for the United States to watch the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight without asking permission. With his team floundering on offense, he thought that he had no choice but to bring the erring players in hopes of changing his team’s fortune.
Although missing nine players, including national team defenders Jason Sabio and Aly Borromeo, the team still had a lineup potent enough to dispatch the pesky Socceroo team and its bevy of Japanese-Brazilians.
Kaya’s attack swung from Romero’s side to del Rosario’s right flank. where he directed the team’s offense with forward passes and overlapping runs that sent Socceroo scampering back on defense.
As Socceroo rushed an extra defender to guard against the threat from the right, the hitherto attacking left of Kaya was left mostly unguarded, and Omura made the UFL newbies pay with a nice run and curling shot from the left side of the box that evaded keeper Alex Pain for the game’s first score. Omura’s 50th minute goal was of the sublime kind – powerful enough to lift high above the defense line and light enough to bend back just inside to find the back of the net.
But if anyone thought that Omura’s strike would break Socceroo’s back, they had another thought coming. Armand del Rosario, older brother of Anton, had to use his leg to block a strong volley from Socceroo forward Fabio Ide.
While sorely lacking in team play, Team Socceroo had come a long way from its UFL Cup opening day 15-1 blowout at the hands of Loyola Meralco Sparks. They rebounded with a shocking 2-1 win over a depleted Agila FC side that saw half their squad unavailable because of the University Games and a 1-0 win over Internacionale after a goal by Luciano Stranghetti.
They advanced to the Round of 16, and while being massive underdogs against powerhouse Kaya, the Neco Lambey-coached squad believed that if they could keep the scoring down then they had a chance of upsetting a Division One team.
With their short game in tatters, Socceroo resorted to the long ball. But Timpani, Ide and even Daniel Matsunaga found it extremely difficult to reach the attacking third without being dispossessed by Kaya’s defense.
On the other end, Kaya was quickly finding its range. With del Rosario inspirational on the backline and the supporting attack, Burkey found himself in the 72nd minute with enough room outside the box to maneuver himself to a position to fire away. The result was a heater that drilled past a diving Pain who absolutely had a snowball’s chance in hell of stopping the shot.
Even at two goals down, Socceroo didn’t give up. Timpani nearly scorched Pierson with a pair of powerful free kicks from some 25 yards out that had the Kaya keeper scrambling to keep an arm up to bat away the shots.
Kaya’s defense held and at fulltime, its 2-nil win was good enough to send them into the Round of Eight where Nomads, the sole team remaining to concede a goal, is waiting for them.
“It was definitely not our best game,” said Anton del Rosario after the match. “It was just a bad start that continued all match long. We had to work for our goals and it’s all good. Now we’re looking forward to advancing much farther.”