Unpopular opinion: Let’s keep Thomas Dooley

I turned the volume off of the livestream in the final 10 minutes of the match against Palestine. It was truly, truly too painful to watch. At some point, I was looking away at the laptop and when I glanced at Palestine seemingly wasting time, I thought please waste some more time.

Neil Etheridge, the captain, had the same idea. Holding on to the ball a few seconds more than necessary. Strange to see the keeper and captain of a trailing team fighting for a knockout spot do that but I was fully behind that move. I didn’t want to see a fifth goal.

CAPTAIN’S VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE. Neil Etheridge’s decision to hold on to the ball late in the game, to waste time, was the frustrated captain’s vote of no confidence on the Azkals’s defense.

I think at that point, the keeper was beyond frustrated with his defense and that delaying tactic was a vote of no confidence. I’d rather hold on to the ball than have you guys mess things again. That last goal, again from an open guy inside the box, had him on his back, punching the ground and slow to get up.

To be honest, after reading coach Maor Rozen’s review of Palestine after it blitzed past Yemen, 5-0, I thought a draw would be a realistic goal.

But man, did the Palestinians hand us our breakfast, lunch, dinner and a few kakanins in that humbling defeat. What’s next? Fans are asking for coach Thomas Dooley’s head already, while some are calling for a total revamp of both the PFF and the PFL. Here’s a newsflash, unlike the rest of the football nations, our senior team has never been the reflection of the strength of our domestic league nor of our grassroots program.

I think that’s why some of our Asean neighbors are so pissed off at us. They have good youth programs and a great domestic league but their senior team gets clobbered by us.

So, should no changes be made in our youth setup or our domestic league? No, just don’t expect these changes to reflect on our senior team.

Now, back to the question, should we sack coach Thomas Dooley now and search for a new coach again? Under his watch, we scored one goal in three games, four if you include the tuneup.

I don’t know who said it, but after the Yemen game, I read that the team is playing better. And compared to the last time I saw the Azkals, this year in Singapore and against Thailand in the Suzuki Cup, I have to agree.

Jeez, we made Mongolia look like an amateur squad and against Palestine, we dominated possession. So yes, the team is playing better. I mean that’s way better than going for the long ball and hoping it connects, right?

And here lies the problem. All that possession play and passing mean nothing if we can’t get a decent shot. Our shots on target against Palestine was a header off a corner, that Gerrit Holtmann missile off a through ball from Ott and Mark Hartmann’s late strike. (Did I miss anything else?)

None of them came from a buildup. Some say it’s because we don’t have a midfielder like Stephen Schrock in the team but I think we can also blame the lack of chemistry. You could see Holtmann’s disappointment as he gestures to a teammate where he wanted him to be after a pass got intercepted.

There were times that I wanted Holtmann to be flashy and greedy and just take on the defense and in those times he had those probing dribbles from the flank, I think he thought of it but opted to keep his teammates involved.

Only having a couple of training sessions on the field makes it difficult but also I’m very pleased about how quickly we adjusted to what we want to do.

Thomas Dooley on Tiebreaker Times after the Yemen game.

Again, these are chemistry issues which will be solved once the team get more games in the bag under the same system. And they will if we retain the team and the coaching staff.

Some say those two quick changes in the first half meant Dooley blundered with the lineup. That is one point, but for me, it showed that the original game plan wasn’t working and the coach was quick to adjust.

So, should we keep the coaching staff and the team? It maybe an unpopular opinion but I think we should. Though they had me pulling my hair at times–why reset? go forward–I really do like the way how the team is playing now. It’s something our young players can learn from. I still think it was a mistake to go with Sven-Goran Eriksson for the Asian Cup instead of Dooley.

But why can’t we turn all that passing to goal-scoring chances? It must be a coaching factor. I don’t think so. Maybe we need Phil Younghusband to unretire or maybe we need Schrock again. Call me biased but I truly believe Shrocky deserves a chance to prove himself again in the national team. Nope, not an automatic slot but a chance to prove himself by being part of the pool.

P.S.

To frustrated fans who say they are getting disillusioned with Philippine football because of the loss. We are talking about a match that would have got us a spot in the Asian Cup. When I started writing about the senior team in the late 90s, the topics were avoiding a Fifa sanction for missing out on a World Cup qualifying cycle (France 98?) and giving up all but one home match in the 2002 cycle. The only positive thing I remember writing about that was when the team had stones thrown at them when it lost to Syria by only one goal.

Supporting Philippine football will always be a roller-coaster ride, please stay for the whole ride.

Mike T. Limpag
Mike T. Limpag

Mike T. Limpag has covered the Cebu sports scene for over 20 years, starting as an 18-year-old cub reporter for the Freeman in 1997 before moving to SunStar Cebu in 2001.

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