A-Leagues coach’s mad dash back from national duty: ‘Relax for 12 hours… then get cracking!’

MATCH PREVIEW: Western United take on Melbourne City in the Liberty A-League this weekend.

For most club head coaches, an international break provides the opportunity to pause, take stock and recalibrate, to batten down the hatches at their clubs and get to work planning the next phase of the season.

For Mark Torcaso, it was anything but the typical two weeks in the life of a club coach.

Instead, the man in charge of Western United in the Liberty A-League Women traded club colours for international threads to lead the Philippines into three Olympic qualifiers in Perth.

The reigning Liberty A-League Coach of the Year took the top job at the Philippines in August, succeeding Alen Stajcic who left to lead Perth Glory’s Isuzu UTE A-League Men outfit.

As Torcaso prepared to split his duties between club and country as head coach of the Philippines, he said “it’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be interesting and we’ll just take it every day as it comes” – and after a week-and-a-half in Perth, that statement will resonate stronger than it has to date for the coach who must quickly shift focus to an important Liberty A-League clash with Melbourne City on Sunday afternoon.

The Philippines beat Chinese Taipei and Iran in Perth, losing 8-0 to the Matildas in between the two victories in front of nearly 60,000 people at Optus Stadium. Wednesday afternoon’s 1-0 win over Iran was the third and final game in the Philippines’ Perth schedule – after which Torcaso was asked how the rest of his week would look as attention turns from the international scene back to the domestic game.

“Just relax for the next 12 hours and get home and see my family for a few hours, then get cracking with Western,” he said.

“I manage it the best way that I can – but I’ve got good people on both sides that are supporting that, and making sure it’s still ticking over. I’ll finish this – there’s still a day and a half – and then after that, I’ll worry about Western United.”

The Olympic qualification series took place in Perth – home now to Stajcic, former Philippines boss, along with a number of his former staff who have all congregated at Perth Glory for the 2023-24 A-Leagues seasons.

Alex Epakis, who worked under Stajcic at the World Cup, has been Perth’s Liberty A-League head coach since the 2020-21 season. Then there’s Nahuel Arrarte, Stajcic’s long-time assistant, and performance analyst Stevan Antonic who both followed Stajcic from the Philippines into Glory’s men’s setup.

Torcaso says that, despite the knowledgeable resources nearby throughout his Perth stay, there has been minimal contact between himself and Stajcic as he looks to put his own stamp on the Philippines squad.

“I had lots of contact with Alen when he was the head coach, just wishing him all the best in tournaments and competitions,” he said.

“He’s someone I’ve always looked up to as a coach in the women’s game, to keep my own thoughts as well – because everyone has their own methods of coaching and philosophies, and without me getting too involved in what Alen does, him and his team, I also wanted to keep my coaching separate.

“Not having too many conversations, but enough to understand the group and understand the players.”

Now attention turns back to the Liberty A-League, where Torcaso’s Western have won once and lost once across the opening two rounds. One of the Philippines’ three Liberty A-League players, Jaclyn Sawicki, currently plies her trade under Torcaso at Western, with both Quinley Quezada and Jessika Cowart joining Perth Glory in the off-season.

Torcaso wants to see more of his players get opportunities through Australia and New Zealand’s top domestic league – and is willing to help open doors for those in his squad currently without a club to return to at the conclusion of the window.

“It’s a good competition to play in, here in the A-League,” he said. “It’s provided a platform for a lot of players that have gone on to have good professional careers. If I can help support that with connections and coaches I know (by) having that conversation, then 100% I will.

“They’ve also got to come out of their comfort zone, some of those players, and want to do it, and want to commit to that full-time professional environment.

“If I can support them, then 100%. I’ve had a couple of those conversations with them even prior to the A-League starting, that if they wanted me to help them, I’d try and find them a club if I could.”

The Philippines ahead of a clash with the Matildas.

Sarina Bolden is one player who is without a club following the international window. Bolden’s Western Sydney Wanderers contract expired after her inaugural campaign in the Liberty A-League; Torcaso says he strongly encouraged his starting striker – and the Philippines’ World Cup goalscorer – in her search for a new destination.

“I’m not sure what the situation is with clubs as such, if they’ve already occupied all their international or visa spots, but I’ve had a conversation with Sarina about her football, what she needs to do and what she wants to do,” Torcaso said.

“It’s also got to work for her, not just for the situation. But I’ve strongly encouraged her to try and find a club as quick as she can, so coming into next camp she’s ready.”