Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #294 Those increasingly memorable Loyola games

This appears in the Monday, January 16, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Those increasingly memorable Loyola games
by rick olivares

In the early stage of the 2011 UFL Cup, the Loyola Meralco Sparks coasted through a series of laughers; routs if you will. But once in the quarterfinals, they played three memorable games that have at once shown the firepower at their disposal and their propensity for near meltdowns.

To open 2012 league play, it was like history repeating itself. Only in reverse. A little over a month ago, the Sparks came back from 3-nil down against Kaya in the semifinals of the 2011 UFL Cup to win 5-4 and advance to the finals.

This time, it was Loyola who posted a 3-nil lead against the undermanned Green Archers United who roared back to life with two late second half goals. Were it not for a missed penalty, they coulda, woulda, and shoulda drawn level.

Even before the match, Green Archers were dealt a bad hand when team captain Patrick Bocobo was ruled out with a groin injury, leading scorer Tating Pasilan sidelined after an appendectomy, and starting keeper Martin Villaflor unavailable due to work.

Loyola on the other hand was minus striker Mark Hartmann who was out with an injury and midfielder Matt Hartmann who had just arrived from England. Midfielder Anto Gonzales, acquired on loan from Diliman, was unable to start because of his UAAP football duties.

Fearful of Loyola that had led the league in scoring with 43 goals during the cup competition, Green Archers went out with an ultra-defensive 5-3-2 formation. The alumni team of La Salle had made a name for itself by playing suffocating defense. The first time they conceded was at the end of the cup group stages when Pasargad knocked in the equalizer in injury time. In their next match, Air Force bombed them out of the tournament.

GAU had looked somewhat disdainfully over at the buildup of other clubs most notably of Loyola, Ateneo de Manila’s alumni team that had morphed over the last two years into a more cosmopolitan club with a gaggle of Fil-Brits, Fil-Dutch, Italians, Japanese, and Koreans. Green Archers on the other hand, kept their lineup intact for the second straight year. They finished sixth place in the then seven-team division one last year but this season, pointed out team manager Monchu Garcia, “We’re trying to go for third place. Then next year win it.”

The game plan was to challenge every ball and pressure Loyola. And true enough, they had the first two chances to score but the volleys clanged up the crossbar sending a message that, “we may be missing some pieces but we can take the fight to you.”

But one can only deny the Younghusband brothers James and Phil for so long. Their dogged determination and talent alone have time and again demonstrated why they are some of the best in the business of scoring goals.

The gnashing losses in the Smart Club Championships and UFL Cup have been forgotten; consigned to the recesses of the mind until such time they face those who have dispatched them in the past. Loyola eventually got going and the cross of Byeong Yeol Jeong from the right wing found Phil Younghusband whose superb one touch volley brought to mind Franco Borromeo’s dazzling strike from a similar cross by Angel Guirado in last year’s cup that allowed Global to survive Pachanga’s onslaught.

Younghusband’s 35th minute goal swung the momentum Loyola’s way. And just when a minute was added to the first half of play, older brother James won a penalty when he drove in but was tackled by GAU’s backup keeper Ivan Fraire. Phil took the PK and his shot was true.

The reeling Green Archers at the end of the first half conceded a second and painful goal.

Green Archers looked to be in a deep hole when Jake Morallo put on some nifty footwork against Arvin Soliman and Gabe Oloweyeye before finding Jeong with a nifty throughball for a third goal in the 54th minute.

The green and white caught a break when Loyola’s returning Japanese midfielder Taku Yoshioka reckless tackle of Shapay Johnson led to a penalty. It was Yoshioka’s second yellow card of the match and it reduced Loyola to 10 men.

But the Sparks dodged not one but two bullets or penalties as Pasinabo missed his spot kick as he sent it wide right. Referee Wilfredo Bermejo ordered a re-take of the penalty shot as a Sparks player was called for encroachment. This time it was Dong Villareal who stepped to take the shot but he too missed as he sent it wide left. Loyola keeper Ref Cuaresma couldn’t believe his luck.

However, two minutes later, in the 67th minute, Pasinabo fired a laser from some 22 yards out that skirted just beyond the reach of Cuaresma. Ten minutes later, Pasinabo launched a cross inside the box that Villareal headed into the back of the suddenly reeling Sparks’ net. It was now 3-2 and the missed penalties shots were suddenly huge (as was Yoshioka’s being sent off).

In the January transfer window, the Sparks brought in some help but it to augment their midfield. But as it was during the cup finals, it was their defense that gave way. Defender Eli Fabraoda’s poor pass led to the Villareal goal.

Suprisingly, Loyola head coach Kim Chul So opted not to substitute until the late stages of the game (Dexter Versario came in for Fabraoda in the 86th minute). In the semifinals against Kaya, it was his second half replacement of Matthew Hartmann for Jayson Cutamora that sparked Loyola to its now famous comeback win. In the finals against Air Force, So sent in midfielder JP Merida to play central defender, a position he does not normally play. And the Airmen made Loyola pay when Yanti Barsales picked Merida clean before chipping a shot over the flailing arms of Cuaresma.

Green Archers abandoned their five defensive back alignment to send in attacker in the form of Gerald Pacquiao and Enrqiue Romero-Salas. The substitutions clearly galvanized their side.

In the final minutes of play, Phil Younghusband found some room to operate and perhaps score a fourth goal for his side but the top striker slipped and Green Archers went on the counteroffensive. Loyola repelled one last attack as they survived a vigorous rally to win 3-2, and collect the three full points of the match to join opening day winners, Kaya.

“We survived,” said a harried Phil Younghusband post-match as if he had just woken from a nightmare. “No more blowouts. This is Division One football. As I said before, any team is capable of beating anyone on any given day. What this means is we still have a long way to go as a team if we want to win the league. And you know what they say about games like this – they build character. And a win – is a win.”

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