Checking in on the Philippines’ U21 Mens National Football Team

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Rear – Curt Dizon, Kenshiro Daniels, Amani Aguinaldo, Patrick Deyto, Julian Clarino, Jason DeJong. Front – Paolo Salenga, Daniel Gadia, Daisuke Sato, Drew Liauw, Luis Abadia.

 

On Saturday night the Philippine U21 team that will participate in the 2014 Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy played Global in a friendly at Rizal Memorial. The game ended in a 0-0 draw but there were plenty of positives to take away from this encounter.

This is how the U21 starters lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Abadia

Salenga   Daniels   Dizon

DeJong Gadia

Sato   Aguinaldo   Liauw   Clarino

Deyto

The Bolkiah Trophy  allows each country to bring some overage players, which is why Deyto and De Jong are in the mix.

My thoughts on each of the players:

Abadia – Big strong lad from Australia. Volleyed just wide in the first half. It’s a pity he didn’t get much playing time with Kaya in the last league. But his size makes him a real threat going forward. Was curiously substituted by coach Jim Fraser in the first half for Kennedy Venida Uzoka.

Salenga – Paolo captains the National University Bulldogs, and is from Floridablanca, Pampanga. Powerful, strong, decently quick kid who is also pretty tall for a homegrown Filipino. If memory serves me correctly he scored maybe five goals in Season 76. Salenga will be a very valuable player in the UFL (he last suited up for Pachanga) one day. He had two good  chances on Saturday night, a long-range effort straight to the keeper and a turn-and-shoot from close range that also went straight to Roland Dely Sadia.

Paolo technically played left wing but didn’t play all that wide. Sato was the one storming on the left flank for much of the match. Salenga did fail to pass to Sato early on but after that was much more solid. U21 Goalkeeping coach Noel Marcaida loves his focus. Watch out for him.

Daniels – Global coach Leigh Manson loves this kid from Kaya. Thinks he has a big future. Has good height, technical ability, and is composed in front of goal. On Saturday he had a big chance late to break the deadlock but shot a bit late (or a bit early depending on who you talk to) and Sadia snuffed out his attempt. He also narrowly missed a free kick try.

Dizon – What a player! Big, strong, swift fellow who can shed defenders with his moves and his size. A joy to watch. I dare say he could be another Phil Younghusband if he continues to develop. He plays for Global and will have lots of chances to shine with quality around him.

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De Jong – got the unofficial Man of the Match award from coach Jim. DeJong wore the armband well on Saturday. He is known for his feisty, physical play and hard tackles but on Saturday he was also active distributing, dribbling out of trouble, directing traffic and, er, laying some profane trash-talk (presumably good-natured) on his buddy on the other team, Misagh Bahadoran.

After the match Fraser said he thinks De Jong is good enough to play in Australia’s top tier, the A-League.

Interesting fact: De Jong started playing for the senior Philippine team in 2008. In 2011 he played for the U23 team. In 2014, he’s on the U21 side. In two years watch out for him in the U19s then, and in 2018, the U17s. He’s a footballing Benjamin Button.

Daniel Gadia – Gadia, from UP, partnered De Jong in holding mid and did extremely well. He is happy to play the role of connective tissue in the midfield, unspooling passes both short and long. I like his decision-making. He doesn’t make silly passes, and as much as possible, tries to keep possession.

Sato – As good as ever. The Global kid’s marauding runs down the left are his trademark. He also tried one free kick that just sailed over the bar.

After the game Sato could be seen playing with young children and making frightening monster sounds. I say the other teams in the Bolkiah Cup should be scared of him too.

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Aguinaldo – The future of Pinoy centerbacking had a solid afternoon with only one big error, a second-half back pass that almost resulted in a goal. He still needs to improve his service going downfield, but otherwise he tidied up well and kept Izo Elhabbib off the scoresheet.

Liauw – The Filipino-Dutchman from Kaya usually plays in the defense on the wing. But he was pressed into service at center-half and did very well for one good reason: he talks; much more than anyone else on this team. This is a prerequisite for playing that position. Liauw absorbed a knee into his thigh in the second half and was subbed by Shirmar Felongco. He says the injury is not serious. Liauw is also one of the overage picks.

Patxi Santos from UP is also part of this squad but was sick and didn’t play on Saturday. Santos, also a natural wingback/right back, has played some centerback in the lead-up to this competition and according to assistant coach Leigh Gunn has done very well there. Good to see more depth at this position in the younger ranks.

Clarino – Julian “Ian” Clarino is part of the family that gave us U23 NT player OJ, Lyceum coach Popoy, and UST star Gino. Clarino came from the UST juniors squad but transferred to UP. Thanks to that cockamamie new UAAP residency rule, he will miss a second year of UAAP play and will suit up for the Maroons in 2015. Boo to the UAAP board on this one.

Clarino played right back but moved to center back when Liauw came off.  He is tall and sturdy-looking and doesn’t look like a speed demon, but in the first half I saw him track back on defense on the play and zip back to neutralize an attack from, I believe, Jerry Barbaso, a Global player who doesn’t exactly have feet of clay. Gunn says he is one of the fittest players on the team.

I can’t wait to see him in action in Season 78.

Deyto – The newly-signed Global keeper is one of Fraser’s overage allocations. Had only one terrifying moment in the second half when Global’s Raul Martinez tried to loft a long ball over him. Deyto sprinted back and plucked the ball out of the air to douse the threat.

The game wasn’t the greatest showcase for Deyto since he didn’t have much to do.

Two other keepers dressed that day, UP’s Ace Villanueva and Junjun Badelic, a very talented prospect from Bukidnon who last played collegiate ball for EAC. The fourth keeper, U19 vet Ronilo Valles Bayan, was unavailable.

Uzoka – Fil-Nigerian who plays for Socceroo. Extremely tall striker with long strides. Has the physical stature to become a useful player for the Philippines, but needs to have a better work rate. Twice Gadia laid tasty lead passes on to his side that looked gettable, but the big fellow seemed to let them slip by. After the match I noticed Kennedy had iced his left foot. Maybe he is carrying an injury.

I didn’t think Uzoka had a great UAAP Season 76 for UST but when I saw him in a couple of games for Socceroo in the UFL league I really felt he had improved.

Felongco – A ball of energy who came into right back in the second half. Felongco, from Calinog, Iloilo and UST, is a shifty, crafty, quick wide player with speed to burn. It’s a shame he didn’t play  more in the match.

* * *

I was hoping to see striker Fitch Arboleda in the game but Fraser elected to use his starters as much as possible. I guess he wants them to gel.

The team has one more cut before they leave for Brunei on Wednesday. Only 18 will travel, the maximum allowed by the organizers, I’m told.

The side just last week lost 2-0 to a full-strength Singapore U21 team, not bad considering Daniels, Dizon and Deyto were not in the team yet and the goals came in the first seventeen minutes.

The Philippines has been drawn in a group with Laos, Timor Leste, Myanmar, and Thailand. The top two advance to the semis. We play Laos first on August 8, then Thailand, Timor Leste, then Myanmar. The full sched is here in the tournament’s wikipedia page. I think eight points might be good enough to qualify.

Fraser will have one player coming in: OJ Porteria. The Kaya standout has reportedly been trialing in teams in the states. Defender Mark Besana is hurt and it’s not known if he will make the final team.

The team has failed to score in its last two friendlies. That is obviously an area of concern. Perhaps Porteria can help out there.

But I am optimistic about this team. Fraser is a veteran coach, and assistants Gunn, Marcaida, and Bagets Piñero are all experienced.  The mood is good, and the side is deep. The semis are not a sure thing by any means, but there is reason to hope.

Another thing on my wish list: live streaming from Brunei!

Check out the team’s Facebook page here. 

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