by Karlo Sacamos
OJ Porteria shot down allegations that he "faked" injuries to miss national team training, leading to his being dropped from the Azkals roster for the upcoming friendlies in Qatar.
A regular in the Azkals lineup since he started donning the country’s colors in 2012, the Kaya FC star striker was scratched from the lineup for matches against Nepal on Saturday and Qatari club Al-Ahli three days later in Doha for what coach Thomas Dooley felt were questionable hamstring and hip flexer injuries.
The new Azkals mentor was puzzled by the timing of the injuries of Porteria as the promising Filipino-American booter would miss a handful of national team trainings but then would play for his mother club just a few days later in the United Football League.
But the 19-year-old Azkal, one of the youngest to suit up for the seniors’ team, was adamant he was telling the truth.
“If (people) want to think that I’m faking my injury, then that’s too bad, because I love the game and would never do that,” Porteria told Spin.ph. “Anyone who knows me personally would know how much I am passionate about football and how much it means to me to play for my country.”
“There is no bigger honor than playing for the Philippines,” added the teenager, who traces his Pinoy roots to General Trias, Cavite.
He said he trained “very sporadically” with Kaya the past two weeks due to his hamstring injury that caused him to miss Kaya’s 4-2 win over Socceroo last March 29.
The 5-foot-5 dynamo then tried to attend an Azkals training one Sunday, where he managed to start the session, warmed up, and participated in some passing drills, before he felt pain in his hip flexer and “knew I couldn’t keep going.”
“I got treatment with the Azkals physiotherapist and he even said both my hip flexers were very bad and that I really need to watch out,” Porteria disclosed.
Then the Azkals lineup was announced and he found out about his exclusion, which happened before Kaya faced Loyola in a crucial match last April 1.
“I knew if I played I would be able to rest since I wasn’t going to Qatar,” Porteria said as Kaya is now on a two-week break.
“(But) the only reason I played against Loyola was because it was a huge game for us … and if we lost, title race would be gone,” he added as Kaya turned back the Sparks, 3-1, with him among the goals, to momentarily grab second spot. “I sacrificed my body that game and was playing injured.”
Kaya coach David Perkovic, who had a conversation with Dooley about Porteria’s exclusion, felt his ward deserved a spot on the roster.
“I have strong feelings about this situation, but it’s not my place to comment,” the Australian mentor said. “OJ is a fantastic young talent. He knows my opinion about not being selected and that is all that matters.”
Still, Porteria said he respects the Azkals coaching staff’s decision.
“The coach always has the right to choose who he wants in the roster. My job is now to recover from my injury and work hard to get a spot back onto the squad,” he said.
“I respect coach Dooley’s decision and I wish the team all the best against Nepal.”
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