Club Preview - Wellington Phoenix

The 2008/09 was a breakthrough Hyundai A-League season for Wellington Phoenix

The 2008/09 was a breakthrough Hyundai A-League season for Wellington Phoenix, as they became the first New Zealand-based team to finish off the bottom of the table. A mixture of experienced All Whites and Australian players helped elevate Phoenix to 6th spot and there was optimism for further progress this season and a possible first ever finals position.

However much of last season-s success was based around striker Shane Smeltz, who bagged more than half their season goal tally (12 of 23) and was named Hyundai A-League Player of the Year. His subsequent move to new franchise Gold Coast United, where he grew up, has many believe that last year-s progress can-t be repeated, but Phoenix and current All Whites Head Coach Ricki Herbert is confident he can be replaced. Chris Greenacre and Paul Ifill have fine goalscoring records in the second-tier English leagues and Herbert will be relying on these two to provide the bulk of the goals for his side. He will also be looking to All-White speedster Leo Bertos, Brazilian Daniel and Troy Hearfield to be more productive in front of goals. And there is always the progress of youngster Costa Barbarouses, who showed signs late in the season that he could be more than just a bit-part player this season and command more first team action. One major pick up for Herbert this season has been Diego Walsh from Adelaide United, who has the presence and ability to control the midfield. His combination with the likes of Bertos, Daniel, Tim Brown and Michael Ferrante will be pivotal to any success that Phoenix is to have this season. Defensively Phoenix has lost Glen Moss to Melbourne Victory, but in Mark Paston, they have an international keeper and unknown Australian keeper Reece Crowther, who has been playing in England with Championship sides Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers. In Andrew Durante, Jon McKain, Ben Sigmund and Tony Lochhead they have three consistent and reliable defenders, but will need the likes of All-White David Mulligan to step up after an injury-riddled first season and Manny Muscat to impose himself more.

The pre-season for Phoenix was somewhat interrupted with seven players and Herbert joining the New Zealand national team, the All Whites, to compete at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa during June. Many of his new recruits have only just arrived in the past month or two, so time spent gelling has been limited. They did head across to China for a short-two game tour which proved invaluable with a 2-2 draw against Tianjin Teda and a narrow 3-2 loss against Guangzhou Pharmaceutical. A 0-0 draw with Central Coast Mariners on their return from China rounded out their pre-season preparations.

There is no doubt that Herbert-s preferred starting XI will be highly competitive and if they can make Westpac Stadium a fortress than a finals spot could be on the cards. However most worry that the loss of Smeltz will be too great, so there is a fair bit of pressure on Greenacre and Ifill to prove that theory wrong.

Current Squad: Costa BARBAROUSES, Leo BERTOS, Tim BROWN, Daniel CORTES, Reece CROWTHER (gk), Diego, Andrew DURANTE (c), Michael FERRANTE, Chris GREENACRE, Troy HEARFIELD, Paul IFILL, Vince LIA, Tony LOCHHEAD, Jon MCKAIN, David MULLIGAN, Manny MUSCAT, Mark PASTON (gk), Marco ROJAS and Benjamin SIGMUND.

Re-signed: Tim Brown (2 years), Manny Muscat (1 year), Mark Paston (1 year), Tony Lochhead (2 years), Michael Ferrante (1 year), Daniel Cortes (2 years). Ben Sigmund (2 years),

In: Reece Crowther (Queens Park Rangers, England - 1 year), Chris Greenacre (Tranmere Rovers, England - 2 years), Paul Ifill (Crystal Palace, England - 2 years), Marco Rojas (Hamilton Wanderers - 2 years), Diego Walsh (Adelaide United - 2 years)

Out: Jeremy Christie (released), Vaughan Coveny (retired), Karl Dodd (released), Greg Draper (released), Richard Johnson (retired), Glen Moss (Melbourne Victory), Shane Smeltz (Gold Coast United).