A first half strike from Phillip Younghusband proved to be the difference as Loyola Meralco Sparks beat Ceres-La Salle FC 1-0 in the Group A match of the PFF-Smart Club Championship.
It was Ceres who had the better chances in the early going when Dodz Pasinabo’s strike went over the bar in the 3rd minute. Dangerous free kicks from Orman Okunaiya’s and Manny Ott were both saved by Tomas Trigo in the 8th and the 11th minute respectively.
Loyola didn’t have much influence in the game until Matt Hartman intercepted the ball in the middle and provided a beautiful through ball to a streaking Phil Younghusband. The Azkals top striker latched on the pass and had plenty of space to pick his spot in the bottom corner beyond Louis Casas’ reach in the 16th minute. The next fifteen minutes became a tight physical battle with Ceres having a slight advantage in possession even if they were down to ten men.
Things went sour for the Bacolod-based team when Pasinabo was given a straight red after fouling Eddie Mallari in the 33rd. The red card was a first in the tournament as Pasinabo was attempting to get the ball from Mallari who was on the ground. Patrick Reichelt came in as a sub in the 36th to try to ignite a comeback for his team. A free kick by Ceres’ Okunaiya was saved by tapped away from danger by Trigo. Phil Younghusband had a good chance to double the advantage in the final minute but his header was parried away by Casas.
Loyola’s Joo Young Lee started the action in the second half when broke away from the Ceres defense but issued a weak cross which was controlled by the keeper. Sang Min Lee had a golden chance to equalize the minute after when he initiated a one-two on top of the box but his finishing got the best of him when he mishit the ball straight to the Loyola keeper.
Ceres was playing like they were not a man down which resulted to plenty of half chances. Substitute Jorrel Aristorenas had a good chance when the ball bounce through his way but his shot was denied by the keeper in the 58th. Phil Younghusband had another chance with a header but was again denied by his former SEAG teammate in Casas in the 64th.
In the 70th minute, Phil Younghusband beat the Ceres keeper with a lob but the ball hit the crossbar. Mark Hartmann rebounded with a header which was headed out by Manny Ott from the goal line. Ceres put on a barrage of attacks in the final 20 minutes but Loyola held on to take their second win in as many games. The last time the two teams met, Ceres beat Loyola with the same scoreline off a Jin Ho Kim bicycle kick in the 2014 FA League Cup. Kim, the best player of the last UFL Tournament, is now in the US to try out for an American club.
Loyola is now on top of Group A with 6 points with +5 on goal difference. Kaya comes in second with 3 points with a +5 goal difference after beating Laos 6-0 in the first game. Ceres meanwhile is in third place also with 3 points but have zero goal difference. Laos is still winless in the tournament with 10 goals allowed so far. A win by Kaya and Ceres in their final group matches would make a three way tie in the group of death which will be settled by goal difference. A win by Loyola would put them automatic first place while Ceres would need to win by at least 5 goals to have a chance on beating Kaya’s goal difference.
The final Group A matches will be played on Monday, January 26, with Kaya and Loyola squaring up in the 4PM game and Ceres and Laos on the 7PM one.