SEVERAL Azkals return to club duty as the United Football League resumes after the international break with the start of the second round on Saturday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
After representing the country in two Fifa World Cup Qualifiers wins the past two weeks, Manny Ott, Patrick Reichelt, Martin Steuble, and Juani Guirado suit up for Ceres-La Salle, which seeks to tighten its grip on the lead in the standings, facing Loyola Meralco.
The marquee matchup kicks off at 7:45 p.m. after a showdown between bottom-half squads Green Archers United and Pachanga Diliman at 5:15 p.m.
National star Phil Younghusband is also fit to play for the Sparks, but will miss the encounter due to suspension, which the striker incurred after picking up two yellow cards in their 3-3 draw against Kaya at the end of the first round.
Ceres, enjoying the view from the top with 24 points, three ahead of Stallion, target a ninth victory in 10 games, while the Sparks aim to revive their bid as they are running fifth with 19 points, behind third-running Global FC and Kaya on goal difference.
The Bacolod-based Ceres outdueled the Sparks, in the first round, 5-2, behind a hat-trick by Spanish striker Adrian Gallardo.
The Sparks, though, welcome the addition of transfer-window recruits in British forward Brad Grayson, Spanish striker Napo Bustillo, Iranian goalkeeper Saba Garmaroudi, returning Filipino forward Jake Morallo, and young gun Alvin Sarmiento, as well as Azkals pool member Curt Dizon, who was part of the deal that sent Matthew Hartmann to Global.
“What’s really nice, going through the squad, we now have two very good players in every position, which is something we’ve been after for a while," Sparks coach Simon McMenemy said.
Trailing the Sparks are the sixth-running Archers, who finished the first round with a 3-2-4 win-draw-loss card for 11 points and are facing seventh-ranked Pachanga, which totes seven markers after only having two wins and a draw to show in nine matches.