AS THE Philippines “B” Team exited the 2018 Bangabandhu Cup in Bangladesh with heads held up high, all eyes now turn to the Philippines “A” Team as they clash with Oman in a friendly in Doha, Qatar tomorrow. The Philippine Football Federation released the Azkals lineup for the Qatar match only a couple of days ago, and while some call- ups were familiar faces, one name that stood out was Stephan Schrock’s. It wasn’t in the squad list.
I had to do a double take as eight of his Ceres Negros FC teammates were there but no Schrock. Five other players from other Philippines Football League also were called up: defender Simone Rota, midfielders Dennis Villanueva, Adam Tull and James Young-husband, and forward Philip Younghusband, all of Davao Aguilas FC, and forward Jovan Bedic of Kaya FC Illoilo. Schrock not there. Azkals playing overseas who got call-ups are goalkeepers Neil Etheridge of Cardiff City and Michael Falkesgaard of Bangkok United FC, defenders Stephen Palla of Thailand’s Buriram United, Daisuke Sato of Romania’s ACS Sepsi OSK and Alvaro Silva of Malaysia’s Kedah FA, midfielders Ian Ramsay of Malaysia’s Felda United and Luke Woodland of Thailand’s Suphanburi FC, and Forward Javier Patiño of Buriram. Still no Schrock.
There also were relatively new names for the Oman match, such as midfielders Amin Nazari of Finnish first division club IFK Mariehamn and John-Patrick Strauss of third-tier German club Erzgebirge Auehad. Nazari started against Bahrain, while Strauss had a call-up for the friendly but wasn’t listed in the final lineup. They, too, might be wondering why there’s no Schrock.
Only two players who played in the recent Bangabandhu Cup—Aguinaldo and Bedic—were called up for tomorrow’s friendly against Oman. Schrock also didn’t see action with the B Team in Bangladesh. There was much excitement when Scott Cooper was appointed head coach, as the mercurial Schrock would finally see action following the midfielder’s fallout with the previous coach. And Schrock did finally see action in Bahrain during friendlies last September, so hopes were high that he’d be a regular in the lineup.
But no. Schrock has been excluded from the the Azkals’ most recent friendlies, and being the newsmaker that the midfielder slash defender is, his absence in crucial friendly matches does stand out.
And so one can’t help but wonder: where is Stephen Schrock? Is he injured? Is he taking a sabbatical? Is something brewing between him and coach Cooper or Azkals management that we don’t know about? Hopefully it’s nothing serious.
There’s no question about how good Schrock is. In 38 matches playing for Ceres since 2016, he’s scored 30 goals. That’s close to a goal in every match, an impressive statistic for a midfielder. With the Azkals, though, he’s been less on target, scoring just four goals in 25 appearances. But he does have an electrifying presence in midfield, both the good and the bad.
Coach Cooper has a system in mind for his team, and whether Schrock fits that system is another question. Many of his fans hope he does soon. In the meantime, we’ll have to focus on tomorrow’s match against Oman, a formidable team ranked 29 notches above the Azkals (114) in the Fifa ranking. This match will be Cooper’s first real test.