FC Meralco Manila remains on top of the new Philippines Football League a month after it officially started.
The club formerly known as Loyola Meralco Sparks are the league’s early leaders with 12 points after playing four games into the tournament. Their latest home win against Davao Aguilas FC puts the club’s record untarnished with four straight wins.
Curt Dizon’s early goal in the sixth minute placed the Manila team on lead and James Younghusband’s second goal assured the club of another win before the league head into an international break.
While, so far, the club seemed in perfect form following the way they have played in their matches,, remaining in the top spot was not without difficulties.
James Younghusband’s lone goal in their previous match versus JP Voltes Marikina showed that Meralco may have improved in the defensive tactics but still need to work on their offense and scoring precision. Meanwhile, their home game versus Ilocos United FC also showed this same offensive weakness as the visitors took the lead early on due to Meralco’s shaky start.
It didn’t help that some of their opponents were former members of the club and have an advantage in the way they are familiar with their former teammates’ plays. John Kanayama, Graham Caygill, Baba Sampana and current IUFC captain, Anton Del Rosario, were all former Meralco players and have been with the club for more than a year before moving to the new team up north.
Caygill opened the scoring for the game in the 13th minute for the Ilocos side but Tyler Matas equalized a few minutes after to leave the score tied as the first half ended. Another goal from the Meralco side was netted by Jake Morallo in the second half to seal the deal for the home team.
Former Azkals coach Ariston Caslib revealed that the adjustments they made coming into the match had everything to do with ensuring their opponents do not get to catch their plays, considering many were former Meralco players.
“We expected a tough match and that’s what happened especially because a big number of players used to play for Meralco,” told Caslib to Manila Times. “But we never expected that they will play until the final whistle. Credit to the players for finishing the game strong.”
However, points for improvement within the team is to develop a “killer instinct” in scoring a goal and wanting to be the first to get to the ball and put it on play.
It must be remembered that Meralco suffered in their past seasons with the United Football League due to a weak defensive line. Coming into the PFL, it was one of the main aspects the management revamped to prepare them for the league. FCMM General Manager Isabella Fernando spoke to Manila Times and shared a few of the things the club changed coming into the PFL.
“I think we are looking sharper and more versatile than last year,” Fernando said. “As you know, last year, we had some difficulties in our defensive line and in our goalkeepers but now I feel that we are complete in every position.”
Apart from changes in the team’s lineup, Meralco Manila also welcome a new coach to head the team. Former Azkals coach Ariston Caslib took over Simon McMenemy this year.
The club is also taking more conscious effort to spread scoring opportunities among the players and develop more than one reliable scoring machine. In previous iterations of the club, it seemed that the players mainly relied on Phil Younghusband’s shooting to keep them afloat. This season, Caslib is working on motivating and broadening the team’s options for scoring opportunities to get a more well-rounded result.