Azkals endure Chicago’s InfernoBy Percy D. Della
Philippine Daily Inquirer
SACRAMENTO, California—En route to the football championship of Southeast Asia in November, the Philippine Azkals blew into the Windy City last week and became the first national soccer team ever to engage the Chicago Inferno in an exhibition game.
Not to be confused with the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer or MLS, the Inferno didn’t have “international friendly” in mind on their home pitch and promptly defeated the Azkals, 3-1, at the Joe Bean Stadium of Wheaton College.
The Inferno, a new team in the Professional Development League—far less competitive than the MLS—thus contributed to the schooling of the Azkals as they strive to whip themselves into fighting form for the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup co-hosted by Malaysia and Thailand three months from now.
The Azkals reached the semifinals of the last Suzuki Cup in 2010 and finished third in the AFC Challenge Cup last year, waking up Philippine football from a deep slumber and sparking mass appeal for the true team sport best suited to the Pinoy’s personality and physique.
Coming to Chicago for a training camp and to learn from their strengths and weaknesses on the sod, the Azkals also answered the call of Inferno president Todd Short “to celebrate the global game with the local soccer community.”
The Azkals were to play the US Virgin Islands for another international friendly in Indianapolis. But the United States Soccer Federation played party pooper and called off the encounter on a technicality.
The strict American mother federation said the match was a no-no since its child, the Virgin Islands team, could not make it to Indianapolis 24 hours before the game, a time requirement for international matches.
Team manager Dan Palami told the Inquirer’s Cedelf Tupas, who is with the team, that the Azkals are considering other possibilities to make their Chicago stint worthwhile and are looking at scrimmages with locally based teams.
Cedelf reports that the Azkals have been working up a sweat with “intense twice-a-day sessions to sustain their buildup.” The team is scheduled to leave Chicago Sunday, Aug. 19, at the end of a two-week training camp.
Calling me from Chicago, Palami said that the team is bent on improving on its performance in last year’s AFC Challenge Cup, although team dynamics appeared hampered by a constantly mutating lineup.
Critics say the Azkals undergo alteration as often as a traffic light changes color—an issue still to be tackled squarely by Palami, the brass of the national association for football and the team’s coaching staff.
The Azkals who showed up in Chicago showcased a different mix of players—they were minus regulars Phil and James Younghusband, Aly Borromeo, Ray Jonsson, Jerry Lucena, Dennis Cagara, Angel Guirado and Neil Etheridge who have other business to attend to.
But the biggest knock against the team is the fact that most of its stars are Filipino mestizos who are soccer standouts in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.
With grassroots development becoming a buzzword mouthed yet again by our glib sports officials, how far are we from molding a team of homegrown talent?
Palami isn’t saying, either.
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