A DEPLETED Loyola Meralco side still proved too much for Socceroo, 3-0, to maintain its hold of the lead at the start of the second round of the United Football League on Saturday at the Emperador Stadium in Mckinley Hill.
Fielding only 15 players left without a handful of key cogs, including Phil and James Younghusband, the Sparks squeezed out sufficient offense while staying resolute on the defensive end to frustrate the newly promoted side.
Freddy Gonzalez fired a brace, while Lee Joo Young chipped in a goal for the Sparks, who atoned for their 3-3 draw against Socceroo in the first round and jacked up their point total to 23 points in nine games.
Socceroo, the 2013 Division 2 champion, stayed at the bottom half of the nine-team pile with five points.
“It’s nice to win in spite of losing some key players, those who are put in are stepping up,” Sparks coach Vince Santos said. “Especially since this is a long league, you know you can depend on players.”
Without suspended Phil Younghusband and injured teammates James Younghusband (quadriceps), Joaco Cañas (measles), Simon Greatwich (stomach flu), and Bo Bae Park, the Sparks started sluggishly against a Division 1 rookie that came on the verge of pulling off the biggest upset of the season in the first round.
Loyola finally unlocked the Socceroo defense a minute before first-half stoppage time when Lee, given time and space, fired a missile that went past goalkeeper Gui Hasegawa.
Displaying youthful zest at 37, Gonzalez doubled the lead 10 minutes after the restart when he chipped in a goal off a pass from Lee Won Hyung.
Gonzalez, still recovering from his knee injury, conjured more chances, before getting rewarded anew in the 84th minute when he pounced on an error from Hasegawa.