Azkals Development Team and national coach Scott Cooper acknowledged Tuesday there would be mixed emotions when his side plays United City FC bannered by Azkals team captain Stephan Schröck Wednesday.
The two squads tangle in the 4:30 p.m. opening match of the Philippines Football League (PFL) at the PFF national training center pitch in Carmona town, Cavite, followed by the 8 p.m. clash between clubs Kaya-Iloilo and Maharlika-Manila.
“(Schröck) is a player they all look up to and hero worship. He led them in the last Southeast Asian Games,” Cooper said of the celebrated midfielder. “We talked about this earlier and we see it as an honor and challenge to see where my players are against him and his team.”
“Schröck in my mind is the best player in Southeast Asia and one of the best in Asia. A great guy and a great player,” added the British tactician, who has had stints coaching clubs in the Thai League 1.
While the goal is to win like their other five rivals, Cooper said he wanted to strike a balance between “what’s right for each player that might not be right for the team concept.
“The bigger picture is for that (ADT) player to develop into players who can go on to clubs like United City or Southeast Asian Club, and one day develop into Azkals. We can’t take our eye off the ball,” he said.
The coach did not shy away from the question raised by pundits and football fans alike over his decision to convert former UAAP star striker Jarvey Gayoso into the role of a defender.
“He (Gayoso) has been making strides (as a defender) since the last Southeast Asian Games. Wait until you see the finished product years from now then you judge,” Cooper stressed, adding that former English forwards Michael Kempten and Jeffrey Schrock were able to make a successful transition.
United City assistant coach Francis Muescan made it clear what his squad’s objective was.
“Our ambitious goal is to win the tournament and play in the AFC Champions League,” said Muescan, who, like the rest of the squad, are carryovers from Bacolod-based multi-titled club Ceres-Negros FC.
But United City FC needs to hurdle ADT team first, said Cooper: “It may look like a mismatch on paper but matches are not played on paper.”
Kaya-Iloilo FC assistant coach Yu Hoshide reminded the rest of the field that their team should not be overlooked in the championship picture.
“Winning the championship has been our goal since we began training way back in January,” Hoshide stressed.
Maharlika-Manila coach and former Azkal Roxy Dorlas believes that “we might just spring a surprise. The individual players may be familiar but as a team nobody knows us yet.
“It is important that our veterans like Anton del Rosario are able to guide our younger members.”