SACRAMENTO, California—For Filipino-American players aspiring to be Azkals, the old Gellert Park in Daly City’s Serramonte neighborhood has become the newest field of dreams.
Skipper Aly Borromeo and defender Anton del Rosario, both Bay Area-based players of the Philippine national football team, are home to conduct tryouts for the Azkals at Gellert’s new-generation synthetic pitch this weekend.
Tryout times are at 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday (Sunday in Manila) and 10 a.m. to noon or 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Soccer moms won’t be pacing the sidelines, but Borromeo and Del Rosario expect the Gellert turf, with the look but not the smell of grass, to attract a crowd when the duo, along with volunteer college coaches give prospects the once-over.
When I last talked to Del Rosario, he said 30 players and counting had indicated interest in displaying their soccer skills and talents for the coaching panel to evaluate.
The prospects got the word about the tryouts, mostly by way of the social media—Facebook, Twitter, blogs and through “connections and affiliations in the Philippine football community” stateside, he said.
Despite the short lead time and lack of a drum beat in the conventional media, response to the tryouts has been very good, he reports. “I have been keeping in touch with all the registrants and updating them. It’s going to be great and exciting. I’m fascinated to see what kind of players the tryouts will bring.”
Although the Bay Area is a veritable gold mine for prospects, most of the interested players are actually from out of town and out of state—Canada, Virginia, New York, Illinois, Central and Southern California, according to Anton.
The main camp will be in Daly City, a predominantly Filipino-American enclave, after the tryouts in New York and Los Angeles were scuttled. “There were at least eight (prospects) from the East Coast looking forward to the tryouts in New York. But we have asked them to fly to San Francisco instead so we can assemble the players at Gellert Park,” said Del Rosario.
“A lot of the pool consist of freshman and sophomore college players. The mean age is 18, 19, 20 but we have players ranging from 16 to 29,” said Anton, himself a collegiate player before he joined the Azkals while in hiatus in Manila.
Although he did not mention any standouts by name, Anton said the prospects have very impressive backgrounds “and I’m looking forward to seeing how they produce on the pitch.”
The Azkals, who are resting after qualifying for the Asian Football Federation Challenge Cup next year after an impressive performance in Myanmar last month, have an eye on talents “15 to 23 years of age, because they will be the future of Philippine football,” he said.
“As for the whole tryouts, anybody who is better than what we have deserves the opportunity to play with us. We will be comparing the players to the players currently on the squad, and if several happen to stick out we will be interested (in these players).”
Members of the Azkals get no hefty salaries. They receive only modest allowances and plane fares to join the tournaments where the Azkals may be playing at any given time.
“Playing for flag and country is really all that matters to all of us on the team,” said Del Rosario, who’s well aware of the reality that players from overseas suit up for their national teams all the time.
The Azkals may not get the big bucks but they are recognized and treated like matinee idols in a country where football is enjoying a resurgence of massive proportions.
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(Memories of high school life comes back every time the mother of all secondary school perigrinations—the inevitable reunion—occurs. Well, my high school alma mater, the St. Pius X Institute in Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija, will hold its yearly grand alumni homecoming on April 15. Highlights are a grand parade and alumni night of dancing, drinking (responsibly, I hope) and the usual trip down memory lane. Hosts are members of Batch 1961 led by Mrs. Luzviminda A. Cachuela, this year’s events chair.)