Wellington Phoenix have confirmed that young goalkeeper Keegan Smith has signed a three-year contract with the club after bursting onto the Hyundai A-League scene this season.
The 18-year-old shot stopper follows Sarpreet Singh, Logan Rogerson, James McGarry and fellow Auckland-born teammates like Tom Doyle or Matthew Ridenton in progressing through the Wellington Phoenix Football Academy or Wellington Phoenix Soccer Schools into the senior squad.
His meteoric rise to the first team has taken many by surprise, including himself.
“I don’t think any of us could have imagined how quickly this all happened,” said Smith.
"It’s been a whirlwind but I’m just grateful to the coaches and the older boys in the team, they’ve really been fantastic, giving me little bits of advice – those words do go a long way, and they stay in your mind.
“It’s every young footballer’s dream to sign a professional contract – it’s been a long-time goal of mine so I’m delighted to sign with Wellington Phoenix given the opportunities I’ve already had this season, and I’m looking forward to keeping on working.
“I still have to work a lot – being a young goalkeeper I’ve got a few areas of my game to improve, doing the extra yards after training with Fernando [vaz Alves] and the other boys – and just learn as much as I can.”
For head coach Darije Kalezić it was Smith’s composure on the ball and calmness under pressure that saw the youngster edge ahead in the pecking order.
“Keegan is a young Kiwi goalkeeper from our Academy, who has the best qualities to support our way of playing,” said Kalezić.
“He has tremendous self-control and is remarkably calm for one so young, he has very sharp reflexes, his vision when in possession is excellent – he has the ability to pick the right pass even under pressure.
“He’s already showed with his distributional quality that he’s improving our team. He is of course still very young – the youngest keeper in the A-League in fact – but we are confident with more game time he will improve very much.”
It’s an observation backed by data with Smith leading the Hyundai A-League for distribution, either short or long; with rival ‘keepers ranging from 36-69% pass accuracy, Smith leads the pack at 78%.
After a season-high six successful saves against Newcastle Jets, Smith’s next start could come Sunday 12 November, 4.30pm, as Phoenix take on Perth Glory at Westpac Stadium.