The coffee must have tasted bitter. The eggs perhaps a bit too runny. The toast a wee too burnt. And the tocino a touch sour.
The Philippines had breakfast with the Azkals today. And it did not satisfy.
My thoughts on their 3-1 loss to the Chicago Inferno.
A club versus country game often favors the club. It's a bit like apples versus oranges when a national team faces a club squad. The club squad trains and plays together almost every day. They can build a telepathic knowledge of each other's movements on the pitch, resulting in better cohesion. But national teams are often singing "getting to know you, getting to know more about you, getting to like you, getting to hope you like me" in the lead-up to a game. That is the case with the Azkals and with many other national squads, for reasons both avoidable and unavoidable. This starting lineup was very different from any we have trotted out before, and it showed. The passing game we all crave for was lacking, but understandably so. So we must be sympathetic. And yet...
The 3-1 scoreline was a sobering reality check. This is an awful, awful result for the casual fans that the Azkals still need to win over. The Inferno are a new club who finished their first season in the fourth tier of American Soccer. Their players are mostly young college students. Last season they finished ninth out of tenth in their division of the Premier Developmental League, which has 73 teams. And yet the Azkals could not beat them. Sure we were missing the Younghusbands, Angel Guirado, Rob Gier, Etheridge and Muller. But many fans thought we could still top this team. Not so. We aren't as deep as we'd like to be for sure. At the half I could almost feel the thousands of TV sets being turned off.
The United States may not be known as a Soccer nation. But in reality a lot of Soccer is played there, especially in the youth level. They have good coaching, great facilities, and a five-tier adult Soccer pyramid. Plus highly competitive college Soccer leagues. We are light-years away, and that is the stark reality. The Inferno were bigger than us, technically sound, and well-conditioned too.
The team looked overmatched in the first half. Time and time again the Azkal back four shuffled the ball amongst themselves and looked for openings in the midfield. But the Inferno sealed them up so well that the Philippines resorted to fruitless long balls. The midfield could not create. Might Anto Gonzales have made a difference? The service into the box for Denis Wolf and Ian Araneta was wanting, with far too many balls going straight to the Inferno's massive keeper, Reese Richardson. Meanwhile the Inferno passed the ball around easily for much of the half.
Fortunately the Azkals sprang to life in the second. Give the team props for making the second half far more even. Patrick Reichelt earns my Man of The Match nod for heading on target twice and delivering the pass that led to Carli De Murga's sublime finish on our only goal. I'd give Reichelt the start at right wing over Misagh Bahadoran for Saturday's clash with the U.S. Virgin Islands. The defense was tighter too after the break. If only we had begun the match with the energy we showed in the second half.
Ref Cuaresma deserves a chance to start for the Azkals. I love the Army Azkals, including Ed Sacapano, dearly. I've seen Ed make tons of terrific saves for Army behind one of the leakiest back fours in the league. He's a veteran with good spring and solid reflexes. But the Inferno's second goal, an elegant chip over Ed by Drew Jaskey, was at least partly on him. Ed came off his line when he didn't need to, since Jaskey was marked (albeit unconvincingly.) Unfortunately I've seen Sacapano let in goals this way at least three times in the past; once against Nomads last year, once more in the I Can Serve invitational when Izo Elhabbib beat him with a long lob, and again this league season when Gabe Olowoyeye of Green Archers sailed one over him. Sacapano isn't the tallest keepe r in the world, so positioning is critical.
Ref Cuaresma, the Loyola keeper, is apparently the second-choice keeper for this tour. The Dumaguete native has been on the periphery of the national team for years, with according to him, a cap or two back in the day. I think it's time he gets chance again. He has made some howlers for Loyola too, but has been solid in the Singapore Cup. The thirty-something veteran is also in the neighborhood of six feet tall, which should be de rigeur for an international goalie. I truly hope he gets the start against U.S.V.I.
The defense is a concern leading into Saturday. Anton Del Rosario mentioned on Twitter that in our starting back four, only Jason Sabio was a true defender. One can argue that Carli has played enough right back that we can call him a proper defender by now. But Jason De Jong is a midfielder more than a center back, and Jeffrey Christiaens is really a left winger. At any rate, the defending ranged from the decent to downright scandalous, as in the third Inferno goal, a poke by Jaskey off a set play. He pretty much ran free into the box for the score.
The roster is not exactly bursting with options on defense. With Rob Gier unavailable Coach Michael Weiss took along just five pure defenders in Aly Borromeo, Roel Gener, Boogie Margarse, Sabio, and Demit Omphroy. Borromeo is reportedly not 100%. Gener and Margarse are both north of 37 years old and may have difficulty with the pace of these games. I suggest that Omphroy start somewhere in the back four on Saturday, and that if Aly is anywhere near 85%, he start too. Ranking points will be on offer so I hope the real defenders get a chance to shine.
It was great to see the kids given a chance. Kudos to Coach Weiss for giving significant playing time to Matthew Uy, Reichelt, OJ Porteria, Marvin Angeles, and Omphroy. These youngsters are the future, and friendlies like this are an ideal laboratory to experiment with them. Of this five, it was Reichelt who impressed the most on TV. My buddies Cedelf Tupas and Ebong Joson were in the stadium and can probably give a better evaluation of the others.
American trains are long. I couldn't believe how long it took for the trains that ran beside the field to get out of earshot. One took at least two minutes. Wow.
You can follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.