IT'S not just two teams that are battling for the United Football League crown, after all.
Kaya FC stayed in the championship mix after turning back second-running Global FC, 1-0, in an anticipated match that lived up to its billing on Wednesday night at the Emperador Stadium in Mckinley Hill.
The third-running squad banked on an early goal from Eddie Mallari, before showing admirable resolve down the stretch to survive the former UFL champion.
While the win enhanced Kaya's credentials as a tournament darkhorse, the result also benefited leaders Loyola Meralco Sparks, who widened their lead over Global.
“We had to keep in touch with Global and Loyola…and the boys showed a lot of character to grind it out," Kaya coach David Perkovic said.
Kaya thus jacked up its point total to 19 points, just three behind Global and six behind the Sparks with still a game at hand.
It was a disappointing loss—only the second in 10 games—for Global, which actually held the lion’s share of possession and created more chances.
But Kaya goalkeeper Nick O’Donnell sparkled with a handful of remarkable saves as the rookie Azkal conspired with the back four of Anton del Rosario, Alfred Osei, Masa Omura, and Richard Greer to prevent a usually high-scoring Global side from finding the back of the net.
“To keep a clean sheet against Global says something about our defense, because they can score goals for fun,” Perkovic said.
In a clash between titans that were able to field full-strength squads, it was Kaya that broke the ice 10 minutes into the game when Mallari scored the lone goal that mattered in a play where OJ Porteria and Kenshiro Daniels had a hand in.
Kaya scored against a Global side that employed a 4-5-1 formation, unlike the 4-4-2 the squad turned to in past games—a change that Global coach Leigh Manson seemed to regret.
“I chose to break a winning habit,” the Scottish mentor said.