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My thoughts on that Kaya-Loyola match
My thoughts on that Kaya-Loyola match
by rick olivares
If the UFL were the NBA, the Loyola Meralco Sparks would be the Indiana Pacers, Global would be the Miami Heat and Kaya, the San Antonio Spurs.
The fantastic start where everyone thought the Sparks would run roughshod over the league is a distant memory. I am sure everyone knows how the Pacers too flirted with the longest undefeated start in the NBA but have since been floundering. And it is the same with Loyola.
So what’s wrong with Loyola after that stunning 3-1 loss to nemesis Kaya?
Didn’t they just win the UFL Cup? Sure they did. But the cup is a different tournament. The fact that it is shorter says something about it. It’s a tournament where anyone can ambush anyone and win on any given day. The last four installments of the season opener have shown us four different champions. Between the cup and the league, it is the latter that is more prestigious.
Furthermore, the league is altogether a different matter. It’s a long and protracted war where the game is not only won on the pitch but in the locker room and how one uses tactics and substitutions and players.
The strong start this year has dissipated for three reasons.
One, injuries. They’ve lost so many players to injuries and that meant throwing in combinations that weren’t familiar with one another. Fred Gonzalez has been battling all sorts of ailments and has not been as effective in the first round. James Younghusband, Boyet Cañedo, Simon Greatwich, Yves Ashime, and Joaco Cañas have all be out of the lineup as well. Being out throws off one’s rhythm and fitness. And to be honest, I have wondered about Loyola’s fitness and conditioning. They looked really tired. It isn’t just the stifling heat. They just look tired both physically and mentally. I could be wrong here but that’s my take away from their last four matches.
Two, teams have now adjusted in how to play Loyola. They’ve been scouted well and the latest 3-1 drubbing at the hands of Kaya is proof positive. Loyola hardly had any chances. These are the Loyola Meralco Sparks. They routinely pepper opposing goals with shots that they can be sued for battery. They eat goals for breakfast. Heck, they fart goals too. Not having that many shots means someone did their homework.
And three, some new parts don’t fit the puzzle. Loyola added four players from Stallion’s title teams. While Lee Joo Young and Joaco Cañas have played well for Loyola, the sharp and quick passing that everyone thought would carry over is not there.
You see, Stallion is a pass-and-go team. Not too many dribbles. It’s pass then run to the next open space then receive the pass then go again. Loyola is a possession based team that doesn’t play a hurry up offense. The Sparks are more methodical. They like to move that ball around then sucker the defenders in then bam! The ball moves forward with the forwards moving into spaces for the cross or the through ball. The faster game is something that Global, Kaya, and Stallion like. So right away there’s a little disconnect there.
I thought that the addition of Boyet Cañedo would work but he is obviously disenchanted with his new team and has been one of the odd men out. You don’t see his normal influence on the game.
And this is a major sticking point. You see, Cañedo was supposed to replace Mark Hartmann in the lineup only he hasn’t. Without that playmaker in the middle, the ball distribution has been a problem.
When Loyola is unable to move the ball forward, they drop Phil Younghusband to the secondary where his dribbling skills and instincts take over. But Phil is routinely double or triple teamed. Loyola has to find a way to make that ball move forward a whole lot quicker instead of plodding forward.
Mark Hartmann isn’t the only guy they miss. Now the absence of Chad Gould is strongly felt. Chad can play defense and offense. Cañas can replicate that role but more often than not, he is left behind on defense as Sam Bonney likes to go up as well. Yves Ashime didn’t have a good pre-season as he was still back in Cameroon. You don’t get fit during the season; you use the pre-season to get fit. And Yves has been injured. That doesn’t help.
I always thought that chemistry was another sticking point for the Sparks. During their first foray into the Singapore Cup, “the wolfpack” was a word they used to try to unify themselves. But they seemed to be like three cliques in one team. Nothing bad. It's not like they didn't like one another. Far from it. It's just that they didn't feel like they were a team. And now there are all these new additions so where does that leave them?
What does Loyola need to do?
Play defense. Not even the presence of the prolific Phil Younghusband and Lee Joo Young means that all these goals will help them win. It starts with a strong defense.
They addressed that with the addition of Cañas, Ashime, and Bonney. Okay but you cannot leave all the defense to the back four. The midfield has to do its part. Even last year, I always thought that there were holes in the midfield and that teams like Kaya (especially Kaya) always exploited them. And we saw the same happen last night.
Change that midfield. The midfield in my belief is the workhorse of the team. They are the ones who move up and down the field all the time. If some guys are not willing to do that and cannot get the job done then sit their asses down.
What’s up with Kaya?
These guys are the San Antonio Spurs of the UFL. The old time champions are looking to rekindle lost glory. Like the Spurs are today.
The last time Kaya looked this frightening was when they were coached by Juan Cutillas and Kale Alvarez two seasons ago. This year, David Perkovic (who in a pre-match conversation with me promised a surprise for Loyola) has finally built the team that he wanted. With holdovers Anton Del Rosario, Eddie Mallari, Masa Omura, Chris Greatwich and OJ Porteria leading the way, they have meshed with the newcomers.
These guys are on a mission. They were the former kings of the UFL but have since been overtaken by Global, Stallion, and Loyola. You bet that they want to show what they are made of.
How did they pick apart Loyola?
Defense wins championships. It’s so cliché-ish but it is all too true. Anton Del Rosario is playing like a man possessed. Ever since he received a call-up from the national team (after a two-year absence), he has improved his game. Mayhap he isn’t going up as often as he once did means he knows what his role is with this team.
I owe Eddie Mallari one. I once scored him as not being a natural on the back four but he has since made a name for himself playing defense. Ditto with Masa Omura.
Their pressure defense as led by Chris Greatwich was fun to watch. They sustained that frenetic pace for 90-plus minutes! Their Doberman defense is so ferocious that it reminds me of that time when Global won the league several years ago. That team ran and ran and ran. And last night when all was said and done, Kaya looked like they could play another game.
During the match, they never allowed Loyola to get into their offense and as a result – forced them to play the long ball. Loyola… long ball? Not even during those classic battles with Air Force or their tussles with the Singaporean teams did I see them resort to that tactic.
No defense is ever complete without a very good goalkeeper. After Nick O’Donnell’s dreadful performance against Green Archers United, Manu Saubach, who impressed me greatly in a short stint with Pachanga last year, has made that goal his own.
When you have a darn good keeper behind you, your defenders can link up with the attack.
Two, Pablo Rodriguez.
If Kaya goes on to win the league, they could very well start a trend… look for bull strong Spanish strikers. Centuries after Miguel Lopez de Legaspi took down Rajah Tupas (no relation to esteemed colleague Cedelf Tupas), the Spaniards have planted their flag in the country and have bombarded the goals with uncanny accuracy.
The dude – Rodriguez -- simply manhandled Sam Bonney. The header and his sealing off Bonney for a shot on the turn… exquisite. We are missing the magic of Rufo Sanchez but the man called Pablo is on his way to become the new Spanish star of the league.
Save for those Air Force title squads, former league champs Global and Stallion have featured that stud striker up front. Tall, strong, and able to leap slow-footed defenders in a single bound.
Did Kaya tap into that magic? We’re going to find out.
Three, they didn’t lose their cool.
It was uncharacteristic of Loyola to lose their cool and start off a near Malice at the Palace (that’s keeping with the NBA references – Emperador Stadium. Emperador… emperor…. royalty… get it -- when Lee Joo Young blasted a fallen Eddie Mallari following was an ornery foul after a battle with Arnel Amita for possession. Then Armand Del Rosario head-butted Chris Greatwich! Hokey smokes. Shades of Zidane! If that wasn’t his older brother, Anton would have belted the dude.
That only one card was issued is beyond me. But I shouldn’t be surprised by the incompetent officiating that seems to be part and parcel of all these games.
Anyways, Kaya stuck to their game plan, played great defense and went on the attack. However, the win can be summed up in one word: OUTWORKED.
They earned this win and are back in the title race.
And just like this NBA season, it’s anybody’s ball game.