Hyundai A-League young player to follow: Keegan Smith
New Wellington Phoenix coach Darije Kalezic sprung a major surprise in his first game in charge, handing 18-year-old Keegan Smith a Hyundai A-League debut against Adelaide United in Wellington's season opener on Sunday.
Here are six things you need to know about this rising star between the sticks.
- Smith toyed with the idea of being a striker until the age of 12, playing a number of junior games in the outfield. It's thought the ability to play with his feet was the major reason he was selected ahead of established goalkeepers Lewis Italiano and Oliver Sail on Sunday.
- He attended Sacred Heart College in Auckland, where former New Zealand captain and current under-17 coach Danny Hay heads up the football programme. However, Smith wasn't even the school's first choice goalkeeper during his time there!
- Smith was scouted by Wellington Phoenix academy coaches Andy Hedge and Paul Temple at an under-17 tournament in Auckland last year. They were given a list of goalkeepers to watch, but Smith wasn't among them. However, after watching and talking to him, they took a punt and brought him to Wellington.
- He was playing in Auckland for the Ellerslie club and is the second player from that club to graduate to the professional ranks with the Phoenix; the other was All Whites defender Michael Boxall who played 39 games across three seasons in Wellington.
- Earlier this year, Smith came under the wing of new Phoenix goalkeeping coach Fernando vaz Alves, who previously worked with the likes of Caltex Socceroos custodians Mat Ryan, Mitchell Langerak and Mark Birighitti.
- Smith now attends Scots College in Wellington and will return to his studies and start preparing for Year 13 exams when the school holidays end next week. Famous sporting alumni from the prestigious secondary school include NBA basketball star Steven Adams and former All Black Victor Vito.