Tuesday, August 21, 2007


A-League Anticipation, Part 8

Last but not least:

Wellington Phoenix

For the last of this year's instalments, I'm handing the mantle over again to my trusty Trans-Tasman friend who provided such an informative account of the struggle to maintain a New Zealand A-League franchise for the 2007/08 season.

That struggle, of course, was ultimately successful, and my Kiwi correspondent has had a good chance to cast his keen eye over the new club that has risen from the ashes of the Knights. I sincerely thank him again for his contribution; I know very little about most of the Wellington players, and there are few better qualified than he to comment on the likely fortunes of the A-League's new face.

Here we go:

On their day, Paston and Moss can stop anything. Paston controls his area better and was a busy man last season. Moss may be the better shot stopper, but his one error a game may see Paston get the start despite Moss's pre-season form. Spoonley is there as an U-20, and may see game time depending on the All White commitments of his more senior partners.

The backline could be the Phoenix's vulnerability. Stephen Old, Jeremy Christie and Vince Lia are the right back options but none play there as a first choice. Karl Dodd is an excellent pick up, and the first of the four Brazilians, Cleberson, looks a big physical defender and should do all right against most of this league's attacks. With Old and Stephen O'Dor as cover, there are enough central players. Left back will be mostly All White Tony Lochhead, who can be a little inconsistent, but on his day was a successful MLS player, so should handle A-League duties OK. His cover would be Daniel, but more on him later.

Midfielders we've got in abundance, the aforementioned Lia and Christie, plus Michael Ferrante, Ross Aloisi, All Whites captain Tim Brown, Richard 'Taxi' Johnson, Daniel and Felipe. Aloisi as captain will start most games probably, with a fit Tim Brown, although Ferrante has done a good job in pre-season. What width they play with will probably come from a roving Daniel who will chop and change wings as suits, and based on pre-season form will scare the living daylights out of some A-League defences. The signing of Daniel for two years rather than just one may turn out to be an inspired piece of management. Meanwhile Felipe will probably be seen playing an advanced 'Fred'-like role although, having only played about 60 minutes of football, he is more of an unknown.

Up front is where it will live or die though, and it's still a bit unknown. We scored goals in pre-season but as every excuse-making Sydney or Melbourne fan will tell you, "It's only pre-season". There is a chance that the Phoenix will play at times with only one man ahead of Felipe and that man will probably be Shane Smeltz; his heroics against Wales and threatening displays in pre-season have probably given him pole position. Rumours abound that Wee-George is the least convincing of our Brazilian signings despite some success in Portugal, so no-one knows quite where he will fit in; I would imagine he is behind Smeltz, Royce Brownlie and the ageing Coveny in the pecking order.

That leaves the two U-20 forwards, Costa Barbarouses and Greg Draper. Draper proved a handful at the recent U-20 World Cup and Costa is leading the line (less than convincingly, on the evidence of the first game) for the U-17 side in Korea this week. They are both Under-18 and have a way to go, but if they get time they will give it everything.

That leaves us with two questions though, where will they finish and how many people will watch them? I've long said I'll be happy with 7th, anything is better than the final spots that have been the norm for the NZ sides since the Kingz were slashed and burnt. Realistically, I think we'll chase a play-off spot but it might be a bit ambitious in the first season.

Crowds? Anyone's guess. Wellington is a far smaller market than Auckland, but people do get out to events here, plus the city has a major football playing base and culture. The other thing that should never be overlooked is that the ground is located right in the central city, pretty much above the railway station and near bars and city life. If the weather works for them and they show some spine in the opener, then people will keep coming back, and if they get on a winning streak the sky really is the limit.

Some people I know behind the v1 Roar thought that Karl Dodd was a very very good player. His ambition was a loss to the Roar.

Royce Brownie tried to score in v1.
Dodd was outstanding for the Brisbane Strikers in the final NSL season (which was his first national league season, despite being born in 1980). He was played in a back three then (normally next to McCloughan and McLaren) and was quite commanding. He missed the last couple of months through injury and the team's season fell to pieces then, not coincidentally.

At QR in 2005-2006, he was mostly played at right-back IIRC, and he didn't look convincing at all.

Will be interesting to see how he goes in a central role, but I wonder if the last few years of dodgy positioning/club moves have taken their toll and/or the standard, probably an improvement on the last two seasons, might be too much of an ask for him to have anything like the same impact he had in 2003-2004.
Doddsy is one of my all time favourite Brisbane Strikers players. He was awesome in his debut season in that back line. Brilliant at bringing the ball out and strong as an ox in the tackle. Brownlie has always been a frustrating player, but i thought he deserved more time for the Roar in V1.0.

More than anything else this season i hope that the NZ team is competitive and get good crowds.
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