Three wins, 3 clean sheets, and conceding only two goals in the country’s top division professional football league were among the feats achieved by the Azkals Development Team (ADT).
The Under-23 national football team definitely exceeded expectations, placing 3rd behind powerhouse squads United City FC and Kaya FC in the 2020 Philippines Football League (PFL) season.
Although the final standing was not a priority, national team head coach Scott Cooper was able to check off their main goal of getting better each match.
“I didn’t have expectations on the standings, but I had expectations on their development and coming in 2nd or 3rd is a great achievement either way,” said the Irish mentor.
But as all PFL squads only played in a short single round-robin season in a bubble set-up in Carmona, Cavite, due to the country’s coronavirus situation, Cooper knows that ADT has more to improve on.
“We have to be proud of them as these are young Filipino players, but they still have a long way to go,” he said.
“Some of them are going to higher-level clubs and I’ll stay here and keep developing them but maybe in two or 3 or 4 years, they’ll be in the senior team and they’re showing good signs,” Cooper added.
Prior to the season, Cooper made huge changes in the players’ natural positions, which left fans curious about the team’s eventual performance.
Strikers Jarvey Gayoso and Mathew Custodio shifted to the backline as the left-back and centerback, respectively.
Gayoso flourished both in the back four and the forward positions – scoring 4 goals in the tournament – and was even deployed as a central midfielder in the final game against Stallion Laguna FC. (READ: ‘I’m happy to play wherever I am,’ says Gayoso in young Azkals PFL win)
“Although Jarvey has shown that he can finish a penalty and he can do well in different areas, we’re still trying to figure out where Jarvey’s best spot will be that we can incorporate all his versatility. I still think he’d perform excellently,” said Cooper as he praised the Ateneo star.
But even if the Azkals team captain lived up to everyone’s expectations, Cooper would like to shed light on the growth of Custodio, Carlo Diano, and 19-year-old Yrick Gallantes in the season.
“I think Diano has shown it and is ready to step into higher levels. I think Gallantes has shown danger and threat and that one-on-one ability to penetrate,” said Cooper.
He added: “Mathew Custodio played his entire college career as a striker but putting him at centerback, we have spoken about his career development and he wins his headers, coming down the pitch, he makes great passes, he is strong, he reads the game well, he’s got pace and determination.”
According to Custodio, who was named man of the match in ADT’s win over Stallion, he could have not done it all without the mentorship of Cooper.
“As players coming from college then playing against players [in United City, Kaya, and Stallion], it’s really an experience to learn the way play around a level like this and having coach Scott behind us, we come out really confident,” said Custodio. – Rappler.com