SCHROCKYYYYY. The only consolation for the Azkals after losing, 1-5, to Uzbekistan is that our best player is back. Pinoyfootball.com photo by Mark del Valle.
by Mark Del Valle
NEW YORK—As a hardcore fan, traveling halfway around the world to watch our Azkals play was like a difficult pilgrimage.
Coming in to the game, I was very hopeful we were playing on grass on a wet day. The Uzbeks would have a harder time shooting from long distance (as they did against Yemen).
They cant go full throttle on us, and had to be slower (as the ball could bounce and roll slower when wet due to added weight). It was also our home field, and it was more advantageous for us to play in front of fans who came from all over, Cagayan, Pangasinan, Leyte, New York, and some even from London.
But the first minute proved to be a nightmare, that a number of people right behind where I was posted (as a photographer) started saying "yeah, it's over" (talo na) or “really, Etheridge?”
Then another goal followed. Then another, and another until it became 4-0. I wish I could pinpoint a weak link for this match, but I would say, it is quite unfair to do so today (Although, as always, I do hope that there were certain things done differently.).
During my "competitive soccer" days, I knew the best way to kill any hopes for a team is either a.) To make their top player seem useless early on during the game or b.) Score on them early on during the game.
Omil Ahmedov's goal was more of a "teaser" of how the Uzbeks would try to sting us. But just like unknowingly eating a spoonful of chili peppers, our team spat out that chili and let go of the hope of trying to even out the scoreline.
Babayan's players took advantage immediately of that downed morale and saw Uzbekistan march on victorious.
Our rabid Azkals in a way got "neutered", and acted, and winced like Yorkies throughout the match.
The question of how certain players played or didnt play as starters arose even before the opening whistle.
Why did Schrock did not start? Why Woodland over Amani? Why Etheridge over Muller? The biggest asset of Dooley having a hard time of not being able to put a player in a position (Because most of them are evenly skilled.) became a headache to look into.
Of course, if we had (in theory) "Iker Casillas" vs Ed Sacapano (Sorry Ed, I just can't think of a contrasting comparison.), and Iker let through five goals, we really can't say Ed should have been there because, Iker is way more superior in skills and talent than Ed, right?
But in this situation, since both players are just as strong as each other, it's like choosing between Iker and Cech. Only a coin toss could (And hopefully not the case.) dictate who would be playing and who would not.
Also, even before the game, Thomas Dooley pointed out that he will choose the starters based on their forms and not solely on skills. Schrock just came back from an injury he got from the Bahrain game and has only played one club game for SpVgg Greuther Fürth.
Can we blame TD for benching him? Obviously not, the last we need is Schrock hurting himself even more (The brighter side is he did show his old self and still kept us proud.).
Etheridge and Muller even showed greater comparison when Etheidge conceded only seven goals in seven games, helping the Saddlers clinch a strong pole position in the League 1 table (They lost the two games without Neil to point his effectiveness.), and Roland conceded 12 in six matches for Servette FC.
Another thing I noticed was how people were easy to pinpoint on Luke having an off day, and not having Amani there instead.
Yes, Amani is a tough guy, and is a better centre back, but that is because that is his natural position and Luke is better off as a defensive midfielder.
Luke has better passing and game vision than Amani and on this game. Thomas Dooley may have looked at the likelihood of going for ball possession (And keeping it.) to be the key to win against the Uzbeks.
Sadly, again, with the first minute goal, morale definitely went downhill and the Azkals never to regrouped from there. Luke is a great player with immense talent. But until we get to see him play his natural position, we wont be able to tap him to his peak abilities.
Choosing one over the other won't help build a stronger back, but us revisiting the drawing boards and seeing how we can put both together, even while we still are playing the same 3-4-3/5-4-1 lines, we might be able to boost our defense while still maintaining ball possession.
Could it work? We have not seen TD applying this setup and it would only be in time that he would do so. These players are the future of our defense, and there is no doubt in that. MDV