Fair Play: After qualifiers, what's next for PH U22?

(This is the draft of my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu on July 5)
PLAYING for nothing but their wounded pride, the PHL U22 guys acquitted themselves well, going down hard against Chinese Taipei, 2-1, in their final game in the AFC U22 qualifiers in Myanmar.

It was the team’s most respectable result, having lost Myanmar (5-1), Malaysia (3-1), Vietnam (9-0), and South Korea (10-).

Those losses have led some to question the composition of the squad, and its preparation, pointing out some of the best guys never made the team, like Joshua Beloya of Kaya FC, while two other players were sent home before the tourney.

As to the preparation, some said it would have been better had the team played in the UFL as part of the preparation but that's easier said than done.

When the team was formed three months ago, the UFL was in the middle of its season, inserting the U22 for nonbearing games--and mind you, this players come from UFL clubs—would wreak havoc, not only with the UFL but the clubs as well.

Preparation-wise, I think this U22 team had the best in recent years, one that's comparable with the Azkals. And what does that tell you?

Of course it's not enough, it's never enough.  The best preparation is one that results to at least a third-place finish in the group.

And the question is--if we had the best team (mind you, best team, not a team of best players), with the best preparation coming up very short, what does that tell you?  

Should we disband them? Fire the coaching staff and start from scratch?  

No, what we should is fire those “hefty expectations” we have of this age group because this team and the U19 team in the AFC U19 qualifiers in 2009 practically had the same result.  If the coaching staff from that team was fired, we wouldn’t have the 2010 Suzuki Cup.

But what I’d like to see, though, is this team play in the UFL Cup—not the league—later this year.  And maybe even in the Smart Club championships, too. Yes, it would be part of their preparation but it would be part of their redemption, as well.

The U22 fared well in friendlies with the national team, and some UFL clubs—teams that feature our best locals—and this was largely forgotten when the losses piled up.

It’s going to be a win-win situation too, if the U22 does well in the UFL, it means the coaching staff is in the right direction, if other players shine who should be in the U22, then they could make the squad.

Whatever happens, disbanding the U22 and starting from scratch, would be, for me, a big mistake and a disservice to what the players, and staff, have undergone the past three months. 

And oh, before I forget, to the U22 players and coaching staff, keep your heads high.



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