HANOI — He’s almost never on top of the stat sheets or the headlines, but the change in the offense under Thomas Dooley has given Jerry Lucena the chance to shine while staying deep in the Azkals formation.
The holding midfielder’s impact was none more evident than in the Philippine men’s football team’s 4-1 victory over Laos at the start of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup on Saturday at the My Dinh National Stadium.
While Patrick Reichelt, Phil Younghusband, and Simone Rota scored the goals, the 34-year-old Filipino-Danish stalwart shone for the Azkals by pulling the strings from midfield along with Manny Ott.
His facilitating manifested in a pinpoint pass that resulted in Younghusband’s header just before halftime.
“I like to assist on goals, but I’m also one of the players who should keep the flow of the game and try to find possibilities to attack,” he said.
But Lucena, who has scored only once in his more than three years with the national team, has also noticeably become more active on offense, filling the passing lanes and being a threat.
Lucena is right where he wants to be, thanks to his growing familiarity with coach Thomas Dooley and vice versa.
“I’ve always been a player who likes to be everywhere,” Lucena said. “And I think the position the coach gave me now (allows) me to be in many places. I think the coach knows me now and he finds the place where I’m supposed to be and I can give the team the most.”
“The coach has given me a free (hand) to play the game I know it should be played,” the soft-spoken booter added.
Dooley put Lucena deep in the field not only for his skills, but because the 5-foot-10 footballer understands the role very well.
“He’s an experienced player,” Dooley said of his ward. “He knows what I’ve been saying that football has a lot do with knowledge of the game — Where do I have to be in what situation? Do we have to step up to the passing lane or not? And etc.”
“He brings all that to the team and he is a player we need in the midfield,” the German-American mentor added.
Reichelt also paid equal tribute to Lucena’s midfield partner in Filipino-German Ott.
“I’m completely convinced that Manny Ott is the best center-mid in the UFL and Jerry, with all his experience playing in Europe and playing his whole life in the first division of Denmark, they’re two players who are individually strong, but are also team players.”