Flying Kiwis – August 15

Winston Reid – West Ham United (English Premier League)

As far as season openers go, Old Trafford isn’t the best place to get things underway. Winston was fit, Winston was back in action but his Hammers came up against a rampant Jose Mourinho team which claimed its biggest win in the Premier League since September 2014 (Angel di Maria scored in that win over QPR, if you were wondering).

That makes it sound worse than it was – remember all those draws they had last season and the drabness that was Louis van Gaal and David Moyes before that? – but suffice to say Slaven Bilic wasn’t all that chuffed. He made a few interesting selections too. Winston was partnered at the back by Angelo Ogbonna with Jose Fonte on the bench and the side playing a four-man defence. Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez all made their first competitive starts for West Ham while Aaron Cresswell was left on the bench for Arthur Masuaku.

To be honest, there’s not a lot to say here about the match. United started slowly but found their stride within about twenty minutes and then Romelu Lukaku put them ahead. It had already been a scrappy one from the Hammers defence as they struggled to contain the height of the ManYoo attackers (mate, they’re towering). Winston got himself the duty of marking Lukaku on set pieces but that left Paul Pogba skipping around causing havoc. Lukaku’s first goal came from open play as Marcus Rashford lit Winnie up on the break and slipped in the Belgian. Lukaku’s second, after HT, came from a free kick where Winston had stepped across to help mark Pogba and left Masuaku on Lukaku. That, erm… didn’t work.

The game was mostly wrapped up with West Ham barely scraping a shot on target, just Edmilson Fernandes’ effort in first half stoppage time, really. They had a go at getting back in it with a few attacking subs but Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba wrapped it up with a couple late goals for a 4-0 WHU defeat. You’ve probably already seen the glowing praise United are getting – they were seriously good (long way to go yet, folks). Player Ratings: “Winston Reid - 6/10 - Troubled by Lukaku's presence, he at least kept his individual discipline in an unruly defence.”

Gotta give Winston some blame for the second goal and he obviously struggled for pace whenever he had Rashford gassing towards him. It’d be rough to lump much else on his shoulders though. Their attack was ineffective and their midfield got dominated so Reid and his mates were left to shield barrage after barrage. And as Mourinho said later on, it wasn’t really a 4-0 kinda game. The two late goals overshadowed any upsides for WHU.

Slaven Bilic: “I expected more of course, but I have to admit they were a much better side in every aspect of the game. We knew they had a strong side of course, but I expected us to do much better. We started okay but then it was missing, we were much slower than them. It's very hard to find any positives now when you lose 4-0.”

Up Next: Away to Southampton at 2.00am Sunday (NZT)

Chris Wood – Leeds United (English Championship)

It’s still way too early to say whether Leeds are gonna be promotion candidates or not. At this stage you’d lean towards: sure, why not? But failing to get by a ten-man Preston North End side at Elland Road isn’t the best – two points dropped over here.

Pontus Jansson was back, this was more or less the best LUFC team they coulda named– just Liam Bridcutt and Mateusz Klich missing in the midfield, really. Pablo Hernandez in behind Chris Wood… yeah boy. Except they were really disappointing. Not terrible, simply disappointing.

Preston were unlucky not to score in the first half. Liam Ayling made one great defensive block and Alan Browne couldn’t seem to shoot straight. Greg Cunningham did put one in the net but the offside flag was up and Leeds were breathing a sigh of relief. But then Ben Pearson picked up a second yellow about an hour in and suddenly the game changed. On came Samuel Saiz and Ronaldo Vieira for the Whites and they were hot on the attack for the rest of the contest.

Ah Woody, so close to getting a touch on not one but two crosses from Manchester United loanee Cameron Borthwick-Jackson. Then Hernandez played him through and with a one vs one situation at his feet he was brilliantly denied by PNE keeper Chris Maxwell (who made a couple goodies this game). Saiz also couldn’t convert a good header and a couple others had chances too. Then Josh Harrop hit the crossbar in the fifth minute of injury time for Preston but it finished 0-0.

In the end they created enough chances to win it three times over but they couldn’t make ‘em count. Good save though it might have been, there’s no way Woody didn’t have trouble sleeping after not putting that Hernandez through ball away. He had four shots and only one on target though to be fair he wasn’t much of a factor at all in the first half.

Yorkshire Evening Press Player Ratings: “Chris Wood - Would have expected to tuck away his one-on-one but Maxwell pulled off a top save. Was left to scavenge for chances in the main. 6/10”

Not that Woody didn’t find his way into headlines anyway. After a summer of speculation, there’s finally been some serious interest reported around the place with word of a £12m plus add-ons bid from Burnley as well as a £16m bid from another unnamed Premier League club. There’s no indication that Leeds are open to selling their top scorer but those are some hefty fees for a dude signed for about £3m two years ago. Certainly one to keep an eye on as the transfer window enters its final two weeks.

YEP: “It’s impossible to analyse Saturday’s game and United’s current predicament without talking about the rejected £12m bid for striker Chris Wood from Burnley, and a rumoured further rejected bid of £16m from a different club in the Premier League. So what happens now? Will United ultimately sell if further bigger bids are forthcoming and if so at what price? If they do, who should be brought in to replace him? And if Leeds hold firm, as expected, should the Whites be bringing in another striker anyway? Football is about opinions but surely if United let Wood go, even for £16m or slightly more, then the club are quite obviously going to need to find a top-notch replacement. Unless United get lucky and unearth a hidden gem, that will not come cheap so would there really be any point in selling?”

Thomas Christiansen on if Chris Wood’s can match last season’s goal tally: “I believe so and we are working on that. From what I have seen also in the games, especially against Bolton, I believe that he can inclusively reach the same or even better.”

Up Next: Midweek footy! Leeds v Fulham, 6.45am on Weds (NZT)

James Musa – Sporting Kansas City (American Major League Soccer)

Here’s a name you might not have expected to read here a month ago. Probably not even a week ago. But Musa, the former Welly Nix defender, has been plugging away in America for a while now. He signed for Saint Louis FC in 2015 and spent two seasons there, playing 51 games, before joining Swope Park Rangers in November 2016 and The Moose has been ever-present this season there. Luckily for him, SPR are also an affiliate club for Sporting KC and his performances have earned him the big call-up.

James Musa: “It was one of my goals in signing for Swope Park Rangers to progress to the first team,” Musa said. “I’ve done that and am very happy. I just want to thank Peter Vermes, Mike Jacobs and the entire organization for giving me this opportunity to represent Kansas City and play for Sporting KC. I can’t wait to get started and play in front of this amazing fan base.”

Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes: “When we brought James in for the Swope Park Rangers, we brought him here for two purposes. One was as a central defender and the other was a defensive midfielder. We wanted to see if he would adapt to our model of play, and I think he has progressed tremendously through the course of the year with the Rangers. We think this is a testament to the system that we have put in place where players can sign and play for the Rangers while continuing to develop toward a first-team contract. James is a very good decision-maker and reads the game well. He brings a lot of really good qualities to our team and we look forward to integrating him into the squad.”

It’s been a while since Musa was last on the All Whites radar. Even longer since he was a promising lad coming through the NZ age grades and playing a handful of times for the Phoenix. Following his release from the Nix, he played a couple seasons in the NZ Premiership and almost had a contract with Bradford City until the manager there resigned and the deal fell through. Instead he turned up a year later at Fulham where he spent a season after a successful trial but couldn’t earn a second contract. Moose played his only game for the All Whites in that Neil Emblen-helmed draw against South Africa in 2014 and it was soon after when he set off for America. After all that, Jimmy’s still only 25 years old. How about it?

Sporting KC are a quality side too. A run of draws lately has cost them top spot in the Western Conference but their second place is still well better than Jake Gleeson’s Timbers (fifth) or the All White-caps in Vancouver (seventh), let alone Mike Boxall’s last placed Minnesota United.

Musa was a central defender with the Phoenix but he’s since developed into much more of a holding midfielder. His contract is for the rest of this season but with options until 2020 and he will count as an international player. He becomes the fourth player signed to Kansas City out of the Rangers affiliate programme. Sounds like they’re looking at him to cover both CB and CDM.

Pete Vermes, again: “His decision making on the field is very good in both positions. He reads the game really well, he’s a very god passer of the ball, he’s good in tight spaces and at the same time he is a very good 1v1 defender and he’s also good in the air. He brings a lot of really good qualities and the fact he has already trained with our team quite a bit over the year is good.”

And you know he’s genuine about the praise too because a day after signing his MLS contract, James Musa made his debut for Sporting Kansas City in a game away to Seattle Sounders.

It was an eventful first game as well. Didn’t go the way he’d have hoped as Clint Dempsey’s 50th MLS goal was the difference in a 1-0 defeat but the Moose was pretty involved. Got himself booked in the first half for trying to make a bicycle kick off the ground and kicking a bloke with it instead although he also moved the ball around nicely in midfield, completing 87% of his passes. Nobody touched the ball more.

Plus he very nearly scored from this sharp strike on the edge of the box, imagine that!

Don’t expect this to be a regular thing though. SKC picked a number of reserve players here to cope with the fact that their US Open Cup run has led to a crazy congested schedule and buggers were tired. Musa’s shot was one of only three on target for SKC and the result allows Seattle to edge ahead of them on the table on goals scored (with identical points and goal differences).

Up Next: Home to FC Dallas at 1.30am Sunday (NZT)

Ryan Thomas – PEC Zwolle (Dutch Eredivisie)

After last season’s mess, Zwolle really needed to get off to a quick start and a home game against Roda JC to start things was about ideal for that purpose. But, ah… John van ‘t Schip was probably shifting in his seat a little when Roda took a first half lead through Diederik Boer after some crap defending. Playing in the middle of a midfield three, Thommo was nice and involved, getting plenty of touches and whacking in a couple decent shots there too.

Once they got going, the PECers looked really good and Thomas was a strong part of that – hardly missing a pass while still making sure they pushed forward on attack. Dirk Marcellis equalised before the break with a glancing header from a corner. Zwolle dodged a penalty shout straight after the resumption but then soon enough took the lead through an own goal. Roda did get their penalty in the 62nd minute and it was converted for 2-2 but then Thommo grabbed himself a Beckham-esque assist to Mustafa Saymak in the 66th and Bram van Polen’s goal wrapped up an entertaining 4-2 win to the PECers. How about that?

Even better, how about this pass for the third goal?

Love a bit of that, son.

Up Next: Sparta Rotterdam vs PEC Zwolle @ 2.45am Monday (NZT)

Marco Rojas – sc Heerenveen (Dutch Eredivisie)

If Marco was looking to ease into his time in Holland then he’s just had one hell of an introduction. The kiwi winger had to wait until the second half before he was introduced off the bench and while he’d already watched his side get off to a flying start there was still plenty more drama to come in his 18 minutes on the park.

Morten Thorsby’s header had Heerenveen up 1-0 within six minutes away to Groningen. Reza Ghoochannejhad then added a second, both goals coming from right back (and fellow SVH debutant) Denzel Dumfries’ crosses from out wide. It was a near perfect first half but South African striker Lars Veldwijk got the home side back into it after the break and it’s probably fair to say that Groningen then dominated the second every bit as much as Heerenveen did the first.

Rojas replaced Arber Zeneli in the 72nd minute. Ten minutes later the scores were level as Mimoun Mahi scored from the spot. Kinda stink there until Heerenveen then ripped the lead back as Thorsby scored with four minutes left… but two minutes later another spot kick for the home team meant we finished things all tied up at 3-3. Wild start to the season, then.

Most of the action happened down the other end but Rojas did a couple things. Managed one shot on target and didn’t waste the ball when it came his way. However his most prominent moment was in pretty much setting up the third goal. Getting the ball down the left, he cut back sharply and fed the ball inside where Henk Veerman gave it a little flick into the path of Thorsby whose touch fortuitously put him through and that was 3-2. Bang.

Big celebrations… until the ref gave that other penalty. Just gonna say that it really looked like the dude got the ball there. “Marco Rojas is the third New Zealander to play in the Eredivisie, after Ivan Vicelich (RKC Waalwijk and Roda JC) and Ryan Thomas (PEC Zwolle).”

Up Next: Home to Heracles at 6.45am on Sunday (NZT)

Tommy Smith – Ipswich Town (English Championship)

Some early trouble in the Smith department as he’s only gone and picked up an injury. Town won 2-1 away at Barnsley, a really good result there to make it six points from six to begin the season, but they did it without Tommy and it sounds like they’ll be doing it without Tommy for a few more games into the future.

Smith had been troubled by a sore back earlier in the week but Mick McCarthy confirmed at his presser that he’d be fine for training after sitting out the League Cup win over Luton Town (2-0). However fellow defender Adam Chambers did an ankle in that one and will miss a month or so and that left Luke Chambers and Tommy Smith as the only genuine CBs left fit. Aaaand then Smithy went and did this…

That’s no bloody good – especially for Ipswich but also for the All Whites as you’d imagine he’s unlikely to recover in time to play the Solomons out here in three weeks. In fact you’d probably call it impossible. Gonna need to draft a new one into that squad then… Sam Brotherton? Francis de Vries? James Musa?

With something of an injury crisis going on at Ipswich, it’s likely McCarthy has to change his plans and dip his toes back in the transfer market – they badly need a centre back. For now that fear is overshadowed by their perfect start to the season, though. We’ll see what they’re up to when Smithy returns to fitness.

Up Next: Nothing much, bro.

Abby Erceg – North Carolina Courage (American National Women’s Soccer League)

You know who’s had a busy week? That’d be Abby Erceg. Not only did she just play three games in the space of eight days but all three of them were against old Footy Ferns mates too. The 1-0 home win over Seattle Reign was covered last week. Since then the NC Courage have also beaten Kansas City 1-0 and then took care of Seattle Reign again, this time away, for a 2-1 win. Huge run of results for Erceg and the Courage who are looking very much like title favourites these days but guts to Rebekah Stott and Katie Bowen for having to be on the other end of it all.

Especially Bowen. Her Kansas City (say g’day to James Musa and welcome him to town) is not a team that’s expected to compete with the very best in the division but after suffering a couple Rosie White screamers last week, this time they had that Erceg brick wall to deal with. KC managed to punch the whole way but when the 86th minute winner finally arrived for Lynn Williams there wasn’t much to complain about – it was just a kick in the gut to lose it so late is all.

Stott’s Seattle team, meanwhile, are much more equipped to challenge for the top but two straight defeats to NCC has dealt them a heavy blow. Erceg played in a beaut of a pass to Williams to almost open the scoring bright and early but it’d be Samantha Mewis who finally put the first one away for NCC. Seattle hit back before the half was over through Rumi Utsugi but with quarter of an hour to go Mewis struck again for the winner – three big points for the Courage while the Reign lose their first home game in 16 matches. 

Erceg, Bowen and Stott all played 90 minutes in these games, although Bowen had to watch from the bench a few days later as KC beat Houston Dash 1-0. Meanwhile Rosie White continued her good form with a lively performance in a 2-2 draw for Boston Breakers against Washington Spirit but unlike last time the shots didn’t quite hit the target. So it goes.

Up Next: North Carolina Courage vs Washington Spirit, 7.30am Sunday (NZT)

Michael den Heijer - NEC Nijmegen (Dutch Eerste Division)

There you go, making it official. MDH has a great origin story as to how he ended up with NEC (check that one out here) and having spent the last campaign with the youth team, the 21 year old has been slogging away with the firsts during preseason. As the club has rounded the corner towards the new competitive stuff he’s mostly been left on the bench but that’s still something and now he’s been rewarded for all that with a professional contract.

The former Auckland City midfielder signs on for two years with an option for a further two afterwards – more or less guaranteeing that he’ll be with that first team as they look to bounce back up into the top division following relegation last time out.

Technical director Remco Oversier: “With Michael's contract, a player continues to grow on his potential. Michael has proven he can develop with us over the coming years and will therefore get the opportunity to do so in the coming years. With his physical strength, his enormous winning mentality and his high degree of intelligence, signing his first professional contract is a reward for what he has shown at NEC to date. Now it's up to him, like the other players who signed their first professional contract, to force themselves into the first team!”

NEC begin their season next week with a home game against Almere City before travelling to Go Ahead Eagles (the other relegated team) seven days later. Back in 2014-15 NEC absolutely stormed to the second division title with 101 points from 38 games a year after being relegated so there’s some prior form here to appease the fans.

Up Next: NEC vs Almere, 6.00am Saturday (NZT)

Stefan Marinovic, Deklan Wynne, Myer Bevan & Francis de Vries – Vancouver Whitecaps (American Major League Soccer)

There it is, Stefan Marinovic played his first Major League Soccer game after initially sitting uneasily on the bench. It was an interesting decision – regular keeper David Ousted was fully fit and everything but Mari got the nod instead, which is bound to get a few of them Vancouver fans talking. To be fair, like Musa, Marinovic got his first start amidst several changes as the Caps closed a three-game road trip in New England against the Revolution.

For a team that usually relies on sitting back and countering, the Whitecaps were keen on some parity in this one. They played a fairly conservative game still but they were able to keep enough of the ball away from the home team to limit them to half chances. Thing was, it was the same at the other end too and we had a very bland 0-0 at HT.

After the interval Marinovic had his biggest involvement as he came rushing out on a ball and copped a knock in the head. He’d recover fine but soon after he whalloped a goal kick down the middle of the park but there wasn’t a Whitecaps player there challenging for it and NER went straight back on the attack. Kelyn Rowe whipped in a stunning cross and Teal Bunbury buried it past Mari, who was left with no hope there. 

Vancouver got feisty with it once they went behind but they never found an equaliser. Bit of a bugger.

EightySixForever Player Grades: Stefan Marinovic: B+

“It was a bit of a shock to see Marinovic had been handed the start but he asserted himself well. He didn’t make any spectacular saves but dealt with everything that came his way confidently. It was a stark contrast to the nerviness that Paolo Tornaghi would sometimes inspire. You could argue that the goal came as a result of his poor clearance but I think you could just as easily put the blame on the players in the field for not putting up any kind of challenge to that ball. All in all the Auckland born keeper (we won’t hold that against him #SouthIslandBestIsland) showed that he was up to the level of MLS.”

As for the other trio, the Whitecaps 2 trio… not so great. All three played against Seattle Sounders 2 and all three therefore had to deal with a 3-0 defeat. What’s worse is that Myer Bevan didn’t even see the game out. With about five minutes left, Bevan got tangled with a defender on the edge of the box trying to force a consolation goal. He lost the ball and got tracking back for it when another defender cuts across him and he trips over him. Or… in the eyes of the ref: brutally lashed out at him. Out came the straight red card.

Bevan was stunned by it. It certainly looked harsh. He might have left his foot in there on purpose, maybe, but it wasn’t exactly violent or dangerous. Wouldn’t say he tried to avoid him though, if anything he leaned in. Dunno, still looked like a BS call, to be honest.

Up Next: A tricky one at home to conference-leading Houston Dynamo at 2.00pm on Sunday (NZT)

Jeremy Brockie – SuperSport United (South African Premier Soccer League)

The season hasn’t quite begun yet in South Africa yet the curtain raiser is underway. Before the new PSL kicks off, they have this MTN8 tournament which is basically a knockout bracket with the eight top teams from last season in it. SuperSport are usually good enough for that and were out to do a little better than last time where they were dumped out 3-1 by Mamelodi Sundowns.

And they did. While speculation continues about whether Brockie will be sold or not (would suggest not, at this stage), he continues to remind everyone how good he is with goals and goals. After bagging an even 20 in the last campaign, it was Brock’s early goal that was the difference in a 1-0 win over Kaizer Chiefs that puts SSU into the double-legged semis next. “The move was sparked from well within their own half by former Amakhosi man Reneilwe Letsholonyane, as SuperSport were destructive in transition, and after Bradley Grobler played in Brockie the goal-poacher made no mistake. The New Zealand international skipped past Lorenzo Gordinho before firing into the back of the net, 1-0 to the visitors.”

It’s actually the first time since 2012 that SSU has made the next round of the MTN8 – decent way for new gaffer Eric Tinkler to begin his tenure then.

Up Next: Kicking off the PSL stuff with a homer vs Mamelodi Sundowns at 1.00am Sunday (NZT)

Tyler Boyd – CD Tondela (Portuguese Primeira Liga)

If you don’t know by now then you should – former Welly Nix winger Tyler Boyd is doing a few things in Portugal. After some time with the Vitoria de Guimaraes second team, where he scored plenty of goals, he’s now been given a loan out at Tondela. Meaning the lad’s gonna be playing first division footy in Portugal. Sweeeet as.

Boyd may have been left outta the All Whites again (not showing enough commitment – he turned down a call-up during an injury crisis at the Nations Cup so you can forgive Huddo for being stroppy there), but he’s been getting time in preseason with Tondela. Not only that but come the first game of the season and there was young buddy Tyler running around from the start.

His competitive debut came in a league cup game away to Vitoria Setubal where he played the full game, although it wasn’t much of a spectacle. Tondela went down 1-0 in a match which saw far more fouls than shots – Joãozinho was marched late on for a second yellow to leave Tondela with ten blokes while Tyler got a yellow himself in injury time.

He then started the league opener against Feirense, playing the whole thing in a 1-1 draw, before they went down 1-0 to Porto in the follower. Tyler was a 57th minute substitute in that one. Vincent Aboubakar scored the only goal to put Porto top of the table with maximum points and leave Tondela way down near the bottom. It’s only early days yet, two flippin’ games, but it’s expected to be a very tough campaign for Tondela. Still, their manager was happy with the lads for pushing Porto all the way. They were already losing when Boyd came on, not his fault.

Up Next: Home to Estoril on Sunday at 3.00am (NZT)

Jake Gleeson & Bill Tuiloma – Portland Timbers (American Major League Soccer)

First off: no, Bill Tuiloma was nowhere to be seen for the MLS team. Gonna take a run of matches with the reserves before he earns his place with the top team, most likely. He did play a full game for the seconds, looking a bit more comfortable than he did in his debut there, though they went down 1-0 to Sacramento Republic. Picked up a crazy yellow though, sliding in way late and taking out two fellas in the process in the 13th minute.

Jake Gleeson, on the other hand, he’s all over that Timbers teamsheet every week. Last time they took a valuable 3-1 win over LA Galaxy. This week they travelled to face the dominant Toronto FC and at half-time it all looked pretty decent at 0-0. Well, decent other than the injury to their kiwi keeper.

The Timbers were already without a couple other players in that defence thanks to injuries and now they lost their goalie 18 minutes into a clash against one of the title favourites. Hardly ideal. Also not amongst the preferred order of events was a second half in which they leaked four goals to find themselves pummelled 4-1. And Diego Valeri’s late goal was only a consolation.

The physios will have their say on whether Gleeson’s gonna be able to bounce back next week, best watch this space. He still managed to get a highlight or two in there in his short spell on the park.

In other news, Jakey was back on Timbers telly chatting about the wondrous nature in the Oregon area… or something like that.

Up Next: Timbers vs NY Red Bulls @ 3.00am Saturday (NZT)

With so many damn Flying Kiwis these days – shout out to Aotearoa football – these things can be a bit of an ordeal to put together. No worries though, you can support the team by slapping a badvertisement and bingo, ka-chingo.