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 13, 2013

Loyola Meralco Sparks: The Stand

Loyola Meralco Sparks: The stand

by rick olivares

The Loyola Meralco Sparks sat in silence. The boom box was playing Fun’s “Some Nights” as every player reflected on the lyrics of the New York indie outfit’s paean to war weariness.

New head coach Vincent Santos asked the Sparks to reflect on one particular line from the song: “What do I stand for?”

In the season and a half long of the version two of Loyola, the squad has come so tantalizingly close to bringing home some silverware. There’s been a first runner-up finish, a pair of third placers, and a fourth-spot run.

The team has looked mighty at the start, an offensive juggernaut smashing goal scoring records, but has limped home, curtailed by injuries and suspensions as they’ve fell as fast as a one-hit wonder. It has been perplexing, given the star-studded line-up they bring to fore.

“What do you stand for – as a player? And what do we stand for as a club?” asked Santos who has stepped into the head coaching slot in place of Kim Chul So who remains team consultant.

Following their recent third-place finish in the ULC Cup, Loyola made only one change in its lineup – the addition of former Pachanga and national striker Freddy Gonzalez in place of midfielder Anton Gonzales who returned to Pachanga-Diliman after a year-long loan to the Sparks.

“We wanted to build with the line-up we have,” explained club president Randy Roxas. “It’s too early to be making changes when we should try to grow with what we have; to give chances to the other players to make their mark. That also improves chemistry and we hope that everything we’ve been through in the past year and a half will serve as motivation for the league.”

The lineup of Loyola brings together the last three national strikers in Gonzalez, Chad Gould, and Phil Younghusband. Gonzalez never played with both and the latter two, who have heard stories about his scoring feats, are eager to play with him.

“That’s a fact now?” remarked Gould who of late has returned to his more natural position up front as opposed to the back line that he anchored during the 2012 Singapore and UFL Cups for Loyola. “It would be great to see what we can all do especially with Mark (Hartmann) there as well.”

While Gonzalez’ addition my seem like a perplexing move given Loyola’s frailty on defense, it gives the Sparks more flexibility. The team unveiled some of those changes in their UFL Cup swan song when they convincingly whipped Green Archers United, 4-1, with Younghusband playing in the more familiar confines of attacking midfielder behind Hartmann.

Multi-purpose player Jang Jowon is also back. The Korean, who is based in Singapore, hoped to return to the S. League where he has suited up in the past but instead resigned with Loyola.

Cameroonian Rodrigue Nembot has quietly slipped into the starting eleven. Acquired on a transfer fee from Union International, Nembot has gotten better with every game. “I’m excited to be playing for Loyola. Very professional. And it gives me a chance to win.”

“Keeping the team intact is good because it gives us a sense of continuity,” explained Santos. “We cannot keep adding people all the time because we have to make this one work. It improves chemistry and it promotes togetherness.”

There have been talks of two different groups – the locals and the Fil-Britons who form a chunk of the team (there are only five of them to be exact) – and how the cultural divide can be a hindrance. But Phil Younghusband disputes that: “I think that it’s only natural because of the differences in upbringing. Chemistry is something that you work on and it doesn’t happen overnight. The Singapore Cup experience helped us grow as a club.”

As the Sparks filed out of the dressing room for warm-ups in their match Smart Club Championship match against the Cavite-based Flame United, the team collectively spoke about two things: “defense” and “team”.

We are about to find out what they stand for.

With Freddy Gonzalez in his Loyola gear. Me? Wearing a Guardians of the Galaxy shirt. In case you don't know, Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel Films' next big movie. Have been a fan since they came out in comic books. Vance Astro!

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