MANILA – University of the East (UE) pulled off a major upset against La Salle right at the start of the UAAP Season 85 men's football tournament with a 5-1 win at the University of the Philippines-Diliman field in Quezon City on Sunday.
Jerome Abarca fired a hat trick to lift the Red Warriors past the Green Booters, touted as title contenders.
Stephen Del Rosario put La Salle ahead in the eighth minute, but it turned out to be the team's only taste of the lead as Abarca began his show with a 13th-minute equalizer.
Edmar Adonis then put UE ahead with a 15th-minute goal before Abarca slotted two more goals in the 22nd and 38th minutes.
Even Red Warriors coach Fitch Florence Arboleda could not believe how Abarca sizzled in the season-opener as he was even struggling during training prior to the match.
“Very lucky 'yung isa kong player (He's very lucky), si (this) Abarca number 30. Pinagtiyagaan ko 'yan (I was very patient with him) the whole week. Kahit nung isang araw, hindi pa 'yan maka-shoot (He couldn't score just the day before). Medyo swerteng-swerteng bata ngayong araw (He was really a lucky kid today),” said the former King Warrior, who replaced his older brother Fitch Johnson as head coach as the latter is focused on Kaya-Iloilo's stint in the ongoing Philippines Football League.
Goalkeeper Lance Bencio made a huge defensive gem after he saved Jovan Marfiga's penalty also in the first half even as Eldrin Madrid iced the match with the only goal of the second half in the 52nd minute.
In the nightcap, UP blanked season host Adamson, 3-0.
Virtually holding home-field advantage all season long, the Fighting Maroons came alive in the second half to dispose of the Soaring Falcons.
After his team struggled to get past Adamson's backline in the first half, Anton Guariña broke the ice for UP with a 56th-minute goal.
Emilio Bongolan doubled the lead in the 64th minute before Juan Basmayor sealed the deal with a 74th-minute strike.
“In the second half, we tried to play the ball quicker especially in central areas. The breakthrough came. 'Yun naman 'yung pinakamahirap talaga (It was really the toughest part). Hats off to the boys. I felt they played a very balanced game today. Defensively, I thought they were really solid and very disciplined. Good performance overall," said UP head coach Anto Gonzales. (PNA)