More thoughts on the U23 Azkals 1-1 draw with the UFL All Stars

Ochotorena, Aguisanda, Hartmann and Deyto. UNAUTHORIZED COMMERCIAL USE OF THIS IMAGE PUNISHABLE BY LAW. Image copyright …There's plenty to discuss about the U23 team's 1-1 draw with the UFL selection. Here are some of my musings about that highly entertaining game.

Mindanao is the Philippines' sleeping giant. On the All Stars team Dipolog's Jerry Barbaso ruled the right side of the defense. His town mate and fellow Global player Niño Ochotorena played with distinction on both flanks of the defense for the U23 team. The center of the U23 D featured Davao's Amani Aguinaldo. And in the midfield roamed Paolo Bugas, the impressive kid from Nabunturan, Compostela Valley.

While Negros and Iloilo are known as the traditional hotbeds of Pinoy Footballing talent, it has become obvious that the country's southernmost land mass can churn out young talent as well.

Mindanao has always been in the equation; with players like Peter Jaugan from M'lang in Cotabato. But it seems the harvest is as rich as ever now. FEU plucked Bugas, Chy Villaseñor, Eric Giganto and Arnel Amita from Mindanao and used them to great effect in the UAAP this past season. Amita was part of the Philippine U18 team that won glory in the Kanga Cup in Canberra, Australia (Aguinaldo was there too) and according to Quinito Henson's Twitter account, was invited back to train with Argentinian coach Gabriel Wilk.

A Google Maps search of the tiny town of Nabunturan reveals not one but two full-sized fields. It's a Footballing town, and maybe there are more like them. It seems that we could be sitting on a gold mine of several unknown incubators of talent in Mindanao. It's great to see these kids come out of the woodwork and strut their stuff on the country's big stages.

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Have we found our centerbacks for the future? After the match I chatted with Patrick Deyto, the U23 goalie. He talked about how he gets his keeper gloves online, sometimes for as low as P2000 for two pairs of Uhlsport mitts.

But there was another find that he was even more enthusiastically sharing about; the two men in front of him in the central defense, Aguinaldo and Boiboi Fernandez.

“They really work well together” said the Green Archers United keeper. “They talk a lot, they complement each other well. When one challenges, the other automatically covers. They really move as a unit.”

“Two of the best center halves I've played with” he asserts.

Amani Aguinaldo. UNAUTHORIZED COMMERCIAL USE OF THIS IMAGE PUNISHABLE BY LAW. Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

The combination of this rock-solid duo in the middle plus the gifted Deyto behind them should go a long ways towards sealing off the goal in Myanmar in December (if the team goes.) More importantly, these two will help fill in the gaping need for young, Internationally-sized central defenders going forward.

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As I've written about in the past, the senior team's first-choice central defenders are Rob Gier and Juani Guirado, both well into their thirties. Another option, Andrew Santiago, is 31. At the rate we are going Aguinaldo ( 18 years old) and Boiboi (still in U.P. for college) may need to be pressed into service sooner rather than later.

Fernandez is the more experienced of the two, having been a part of the 2011 SEA Games squad. I remember Diding Cabalida telling me two years ago that the one thing he loves about Fernandez is the timing of his tackles, a key skill for defenders.

Aguinaldo is startlingly well-developed physically for such a young kid, and no less than Kaya FC coach David Perkovic has taken note of his quality.

In Sunday's game Aguinaldo almost scored with a volley off a corner kick, but the awkward shot sailed high.

Amani has transferred to U.P. from FEU, which means, thanks to that idiotic new two-year residency rule, he may have to wait until 2015 to suit up for Anto Gonzales' Maroon Booters. It could be a blessing in disguise since he can now play in the UFL while he studies, unencumbered by UAAP restrictions.

Meanwhile another tall and promising centerback is at our disposal in the form of Deo Segunial, who won a UAAP title alongside Fernandez in 2012.

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Questions loom for this team once certain players get fit. The U23 Azkals are going swimmingly now, but what happens when some of the other players, many with senior experience, exit sick bay or enter the picture?

Jeffrey Christiaens is hurt, as are both of the Angeles twins. Jason De Jong has a pesky back issue. OJ Porteria is back in Virginia at the moment. There is also the question of the Ott brothers, Manny and Mike. Both are eligible for Myanmar but haven't trained recently since they are busy with their clubs.

Will Brian Reid find a place for them in the SEA Games if these very fine players are available? Or will he stick with the crew he has now, which has been building up cohesion all this time? It is an interesting dilemma.

Fornea celebrates. UNAUTHORIZED COMMERCIAL USE OF THIS IMAGE PUNISHABLE BY LAW. Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

Were the POC and PSC paying attention last Sunday? If only Messrs. Cojuangco and Garcia could have been there last Sunday. They would have seen a paying crowd witness a free-flowing, entertaining match. They would have seen the tremendous passion the Football community has for this team. They would have witnessed a talented U23 side, of which nine of the starting eleven were born and raised in this country, give a vastly more experienced All Star bunch all they could handle for ninety torrid minutes.

Maybe, just maybe the scales would have dropped from their eyes, and they would have beheld what we all can see clearly: a fighting team that deserves a chance.

Azkals boss Dan Palami said it best. “I think they acquitted themselves well. And to think we still have training camps coming up and are missing some key players.”

“This performance emphasizes what we have been saying all along; that they are ready for the SEA Games.”

Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.

Jinggoy Valmayor pressures Chris Greatwich. UNAUTHORIZED COMMERCIAL USE OF THIS IMAGE PUNISHABLE BY LAW. Image …

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