DUBAI—Coach Thomas Dooley knows that the ultimate test to his tenure as national team coach of the Philippines will be the AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives in May.
Along the way, however, Dooley, who didn’t have any national team head coaching experience before taking the Azkals’ job, is chalking up minor victories with his brand of coaching—developing a style of play and earning the trust of players he’s only known for less than a month.
Morale is high as the Azkals prepare for a duel with a formidable Azerbaijan side on Wednesday at Al-Shabbab Stadium here.
It will be the first match for the Philippines against European opposition since 1997.
Replacing Michael Weiss, Dooley has been under the microscope since he took the job, but for some of the Azkals regulars, the former United States skipper has acquitted himself well.
“Just the respect he commands because of his experience as a player is huge for us,” said midfielder Jason de Jong of the coach who played in two World Cups.
“He’s given us a lot of confidence. We’re learning so much from him.” For skipper Rob Gier, who also does scouting work for the squad since 2011, it’s Dooley’s attention to detail that has impressed him the most.
“We’ve done a lot of discussions on how we want to play with coach and he wants us to play out of the backline as often as possible with short 1-2 passes,” said Gier.
The Azkals got off to an encouraging start under Dooley, holding a full-strength Malaysia side to a scoreless draw Saturday.
With an improved passing game, the Azkals also gave the Malaysians problems defensively.
“We’re a team in transition and there are going to be mistakes,” said Gier.
“It’s going to be a steep learning curve before May but the signs are positive.”
Azkals manager Dan Palami vowed to pull out all the stops to make sure the team is at its peak in the Challenge Cup.
“We will do whatever it takes to be the best prepared squad in the Challenge Cup,” said Palami, who, along with midfielder Ruben Doctora, joined the team here late after visa delays.
“I think that it’s important for all the stakeholders, especially the Philippine Football Federation, to go the extra mile in helping the team.”
On their first full day here, the Azkals spent a couple of hours viewing the tape of their scoreless draw against Malaysia, before training in the afternoon as they waited for the arrival of Europe-based teammates Stephan Schrock, Roland Muller, Jerry Lucena and Javier Patino.