Rampaging Stallion's four-star performance sends Loyola reeling
Stallion-Sta. Lucia's Rufo Sanchez celebrates one of his two goals against Loyola Meralco. Jerome Ascano

STALLION-Sta. Lucia battled through all sorts of adversities Tuesday night to hack out a 4-2 victory over Loyola Meralco and grab the solo lead in the United Football League at the Emperador Stadium in Taguig.

Showing steely resolve in the second half, the reigning UFL Cup champions climbed from a1-2 first-half hole to score the high-scoring come-from-behind win that vaulted them past Global in the standings.

Rufo Sanchez fired a brace, including the go-ahead goal, while Nathan Alquiros and Lee Joo Young added a goal apiece for the Stallions, who protected their lead despite going a man down late in the second half.

“This is the game that builds character for us. It’s a feel-good game. It makes me look smart,” said Stallions coach Ernie Nierras, whose team dealt the Sparks their first loss of the season in nine games.

The Stallions finished the first round of the season with 24 points in nine games, with a lone loss coming from Global.

“We had that glitch against Global, but I can’t complain. Right now, we’re in first place,” said Nierras, whose team’s game against the Sparks served as appetizer to the Global-Kaya game on Thursday in a matchup between the two teams that disputed the title.

“We created some distance between us and Loyola, which is the important thing so it’s Global’s turn to push Kaya down so it becomes a two-horse race,” Nierras said. “That’s what we want to do.”

Hesitant to field injured first-choice goalkeeper Wilson Muñoz, Nierras opted to start Guilherme Hasegawa between the posts.

The adjustment seemed to have worked against the Stallions’ favor as they saw themselves down in the first half when Phil Younghusband and Matthew Hartmann struck to give the Sparks the lead at halftime.

The Stallions’ fortunes started to turn around in the second half when Muñoz entered the match.

“I didn’t really want to play him, but we needed him so he came in the game and saved the game for us,” Nierras said. “That could’ve been three-one right there in the beginning of the second half.”

Heeding Nierras’ plea to score two quick goals after the restart, the Stallions equalized six minutes into the second half courtesy of Lee, before Sanchez followed up his first-half goal by finding the back of the net six minutes later that gave them the lead for good.

The Sparks saw a ray of hope when the Stallions’ Bervic Italia was sent off in the 85th minute for a second yellow card, but Alquiros put the outcome beyond doubt with his own finish six minutes into second-half stoppage time.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos