This is an article I wrote for Pinoyfootball.com
The Azkals’ goalkeeping positions are firmly held by four talented individuals.
Fulham’s Neil Etheridge, veteran and probably United Football League’s (UFL) best keeper Eduard Sacapano, promising sixteen-year old Christopher Camcam and Cebuano teenager Paolo Pascual now crowd that position.
This was the pecking order of the team’s goalkeeping position during the past two tournaments and most probably for the ongoing AFC Challenge Cup.
Neil is a solid first-choice; his heroic antics during the Suzuki Cup Qualifiers (Laos, October 2010) and the Suzuki Cup itself (Vietnam-Indonesia, December 2010) are constant reminders of why he should bear this honor.
Eduard, despite being an ageing keeper at 36 years old, is still a reliable second-choice who can step up if ever anything bad (knock on wood) happens to Etheridge. As for Chris Camcam, being a former keeper of the national U-19 team is a sign of his potential. Not to mention; standing at 6 feet three inches tall at the age of only sixteen makes him an asset to keep.
Paolo Pascual is another promising goalie who had to drop out out of University of San Carlos in Cebu to try his luck with the Azkals.
There is indeed a stiff competition for the spot deemed the most unglamorous position in all of football.
And because of this a number of talented Filipino keepers all over the globe are forgotten, bar Paolo Pascual who managed to shine despite all this. Former Azkals Ref Cuaresma (Philippine Navy) and Alvin Montanez (Silliman University F.C.) are no longer on the team’s radar.
Even former national team standout Louie Michael Casas (former San Beda College now with University of St. La Salle in Bacolod) has been forgotten.
In my opinion however, the best Filipino keeper waiting to shine out there is foreign-based.
No, it’s not Roland Mueller (MSV Duisburg) of Germany who was once tapped to be Neil’s back-up. It’s also not Christian Wallau, another Filipino-German, who once was keeper for an all Euro-based Filipino football team.
I’m talking about Ralph Koch, another German-based Filipino who has played for the reserve teams of FC Twente(Netherlands) and Borussia Dortmund (Germany).
Ralph Nick Joseph Abayon Koch was born in Makati City, to a German father and a Pinay mother. He went to school at Eurocampus International School and started his football playing for the school team. At the age of sixteen, he switched schools and continued his studies at Brent Internation School. Two years after, in 2005, Ralph decided to pursue university in Europe in order to further his studies. He took up Public Administration & Political Science in Germany. This marked the start of the golden age of his football career.
Immediately after moving to Germany, Koch joined German minor league team TuS Niederaden. This would be a stepping stone as his performance for the club got him invites for try-outs to various clubs, including Preussen Munster F.C.
Stint with Borussia Dortmund
Problems with his schooling got him free time, which enabled him to look for clubs around Germany. It was because of his free time that he decided to look for a job in his hometown club, Borrusia Dortmund.
He looked for a job, not a try-out. But during the course of his stay at Dortmund (as assistant equipment manager), Ralph experimented playing with the trainees and the first team players at the club. He shined well during these mock games and earned him praise from the coaches that they asked him to train with them until he gets back to school, on a non-contract basis.
Soon after, Ralph found himself as Dortmund’s keeper during closed-door and academy matches against minor league clubs.
Koch’s time at Borussia Dortmund came to an end in less than a year, as he found school in the Netherlands.
However, this gave him further opportunities to hone his football potential as he landed a spot at F.C. Twente’s reserve side. He even managed to play for two full 90 minute games while at Twente in the Netherlands reserve league, against RKC Waalwijk and NEC Nijmegen.
Ralph spent a year and a half at the Netherlands before moving on to another challenge. He then moved back to Germany, in Lunen City specifically, to join German 6th tier club Luner SV. Despite being way back down in the German league system, it was in this club where Ralph was able to find action against several big teams. His old club Borussia Dortmund included, where he managed to stop shots from Lucas Barrios among others.
Ralph Koch clearly has a good pedigree behind him, getting experience from such clubs. And at the age of 23 one could only imagine how far he could go. He takes his studies and his footballing seriously, a sign of a decent young lad.
Playing for the Azkals
I asked Ralph if ever he considered playing for the Azkals, he replies: “Of course.”
“I have always considered myself as a Filipino, nothing else”, he adds.
Despite this patriotism, Ralph never got a chance to prove himself. He has contacted the PFF several times, starting from the Des Bulpin era, but he was never contacted back. The closest he got to a try-out was when he met with Mr. Dan Palami in Frankfurt, it was during this meeting that he impressed the Azkals manager with his ability to speak Tagalog fluently.
This bore good results, he is invited to train with the team in June in preparation for an U-23 pool for the SEA games. He will however, face stiff competition again, particularly from the shining keeper from Cebu, Paolo Pascual.
Asked if he is worried about Paolo: “Not at all, in fact I am in contact with him and we give advice to each other.”
“He’s a good guy.”
Today, Ralph can only look at June for a possible step forward for his dream of one day representing the country he calls home. But who knows how far he could go? (LE)