SOCCEROO showed it belonged in Division 1 as it held a complacent Loyola Meralco side to a shocking 3-3 draw on Saturday night in the United Football League at the Emperador Stadium in Mckinley Hill.
So far having a rough sailing in its maiden top-flight campaign, the Korean-powered squad finally came up with its most impressive result — and against no less than the league-leading Sparks — to hike its point total to five points after seven games.
Jeong Woo Lee registered a brace, while fellow Korean Seung Yeon Min added a goal for Socceroo, which actually squandered a two-goal lead, but showed enough resolve in the endgame to escape with the stalemate, which halted the Sparks’ winning run in at 15 games dating back to last year.
The Sparks, who stayed atop the nine-team table with 16 points, last lost over four months ago or in September 27 when they suffered a 1-2 decision to Kaya in the UFL preseason.
“They have a big heart,” Socceroo coach Kleng Cacacho said of his players, with special mention to goalkeeper Gui Hasegawa and skipper Enzo Pinga. “I told them, if we want respect in the first division, we need to show them that we can play at their level.”
“This tie is actually bittersweet because we know we could’ve won it,” Socceroo assistant coach Rodrigo Davalos butted in. “But at the same time, we know that this can only get better.”
Seemingly underestimating eighth-running Socceroo, the Sparks experimented with their powerhouse lineup that saw star striker Phil Younghusband come off the bench, and seldom-used subs Ref Cuarsesma, Yves Ashime, and Rodrigue Nembot start. Nembot was also used a holding midfielder along with fellow defender Joaco Cañas.
Still, Socceroo knew how offensively potent Loyola was as it entered the game with a plan to stay compact on defense and turning to quick counterattacks on offense.
And lo and behold, Socceroo unlocked what had been an impenetrable Loyola defense only three minutes into the game courtesy of Seung.
After Cañedo equalized 20 minutes later, Jeong regained the lead for Socceroo early in the second half when the Korean scored his brace just three minutes apart starting in the 53rd.
With a sense of urgency, the Sparks fielded Younghusband, who came in for Jake Morallo in the 57th, then scored just three minutes later.
Cañas finally scored on a header off an Alex Elnar cross from the right side two minutes before stoppage time to salvage the draw.
“It just shows that in any football match, you can’t expect to just turn it up when you want to, when you have to, because then sometimes you end up rushing, a bit unlucky. But if we played like the last ten to fifteen minutes the way we played the whole ninety minutes, the result would’ve been different,” Sparks coach Vince Santos said.
“But I don’t want to take anything from (Socceroo’s) performance,” Santos added. “They caught us on a couple of counters where in pushing forward to score, we left the back not properly … we were imbalanced too much on attack. And I take full responsibility for it.”