WHEATON—Not even a strong second half could cushion the impact of the Philippines’ nightmarish start in a 1-3 loss to US Premier Development League side Chicago Inferno Saturday night at the Joe Bean Stadium here.
Playing the first of two test matches aimed to sharpen them for the Suzuki Cup late this year, the Azkals conceded three goals in the first 32 minutes against a team made up of collegiate standouts before close to 1,000 fans, most of whom were Chicago-based Filipinos.
Defender Carli de Murga averted what could have been a deflating shutout loss with a 71st minute strike, after a flowing move that involved newcomer Demitrius Omphroy, Patrick Reichelt, Chris Greatwich and Denis Wolf.
It was the highlight of an improved second half showing where the Azkals carved out chances from patient buildup play.
“Nobody wants to lose, but if in losing this game we are able to learn valuable lessons that we could use in the next game or tournament, then I can say, in perspective, the test match was good for us,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami after the match played in the suburbs west of downtown Chicago.
Only three from their strong starting eleven—Chieffy Caligdong, Jason Sabio and De Murga—started for the Azkals with Phil and James Younghusband, Angel Guirado and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge among the notable absentees.
“That was a superb test for us,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss. “This is a different team again. New players coming and players coming back. It always takes some time. It’s not supposed to be an excuse but it’s the way it is.”
Inferno coach Tony Kees, who was only on his third day coaching the side, said he had “a makeshift team which came together pretty well.”
The Inferno’s lineup was made up of players aged 18 to 21 who Kees said “are knocking on the door of the MLS (Major League Soccer.”
“The first half was a disaster defensively,” said Weiss, whose team has been training in the Windy City for the past week to start their Suzuki Cup buildup. “Well, I don’t want to find excuses but maybe the players were not ready and not concentrated and took the opponent a little bit lightly and we were punished defensively.”
Christiaens, who dazzled as a left winger in the Long Teng Cup last year, was fielded as a leftback and struggled to cope with the threat of Drew Jeskey, who scored two goals, including a chip over Ed Sacapano in the 14th minute that doubled the lead.
Midfielder Carl Haworth opened the scoring seven minutes into the match with a curling strike from 25 yards after the Azkals were unable to clear the ball.
An unmarked Jeskey got his second, sliding home a free kick from the right in the 32nd minute.
With Matthew Uy and Omphroy finally getting their chance in the second half and Patrick Reichelt causing havoc inside the box, the Azkals looked more threatening in the second half.
But aside from De Murga’s superb first-time strike, the Azkals failed to test 6-foot-5 goalkeeper Reece Richardson enough.
Reichelt had a header just caught by Richardson, while Omphroy saw his header sail over the bar.
“The quality was much better in the second half,” said Weiss. “We must give players who came in and rose to the occasion.”