MANILA, Philippines – A stern test awaits United Football League powerhouse Loyola Meralco when it clashes with Singapore League side Geylang United in the opening round of the RHB Singapore Cup on Friday at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Bannered by Filipino internationals Phil and James Younghusband, the Sparks are the first Philippine side to have been invited to a club tournament since the national team boosted the sport’s popularity to unprecedented heights two years ago.
Aside from S-League teams, the 16-team Singapore Cup also involves clubs from Australia, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia competing in a knockout format.
If the Sparks, whose campaign is backed by Cebu Pacific, hurdle Geylang, they will return to Singapore in July to play in a two-leg quarterfinal.
Although it is currently struggling in the S-League – considered one of the strongest leagues in the region, Geylang ruled the Singapore Cup only a couple of years ago.
“We’re honored to be participating in the tournament,” said Loyola Meralco club vice-president Randy Roxas.
“We’re looking at it not just for the Singapore Cup but in terms of credibility of the UFL and of Filipino teams to be eventually invited regularly to Southeast Asian tournaments in the future.”
The Sparks are currently running second in the UFL, where they are the league’s highest scoring team with 50 goals – 18 courtesy of Phil Younghusband.
Loyola actually beefed up its lineup by tapping veteran internationalist Simon Greatwich for the Singapore Cup, which only allows four foreigners for each squad.
Winning the UFL title is still a priority, but Loyola skipper James Younghusband stressed the importance of a strong showing in the Singapore Cup.
“We’re all excited to be competing internationally as a club,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on us because we will be representing club football in the Philippines.”