The Loyola Meralco Sparks have been hampered by injuries since the start of the UFL Cup. Joaco Cañas only returned in the last two games, while Simon Greatwich managed just a cameo appearance in the final group match. Meanwhile, Phil Younghusband has yet to see action as he continues his recovery from a pesky knee problem. But with the absences has come a new source of excitement, a Spanish dose of quality that has yielded an explosion of goals.
Alvaro Castiella, who joined the team in February, is currently not only the top scorer for the Sparks this season, he’s also leading the entire UFL Cup. He managed to score a total of nine goals in the group stage, and perhaps the most impressive aspect of the haul is that Castiella completed it in two games. The Spanish forward fired in his first hat-trick during the match against Pasargad. He then took it up a notch against Manila Nomads with an extremely rare double hat-trick.
“This was the last game of the group matches and he (Simon McMenemy) told us to score as much goals as we could, play as well as we could, and that’s what we tried to do,” Castiella said after the Manila Nomads game.
In just a short span of time, the veteran forward has proven a solid option for the Sparks up top. Castiella started in almost every group game, missing only the Global match because of a mild injury. However, he recovered quickly and managed to seal the Sparks’ slot in the knockout stages by leading the team to an emphatic finish against Nomads.
Besides Alvaro, the Sparks have had five other goal scorers. Tahj Minniecon and James Younghusband have both scored four goals so far this season, while Jason de Jong, Jinggoy Valmayor and Jake Morallo have contributed two goals each.
The Loyola Meralco Sparks will be facing the UFL Cup holders, and current AFC Cup contenders, Kaya FC, on April 2 for a highly anticipated quarterfinal clash. With the uncertainty of Phil Younghusband playing, Castiella is expected to suit up and propel the Sparks to victory once more.
“We are going to train this month and we have friendly matches and that is how we will prepare on that game (against Kaya),” he said.