This latest Footy Ferns squad was a hugely anticipated one. Probably the most exciting press release the team’s had in a long while (sure beats learning that the captain’s prematurely retired for non-football reasons…). Usually you have a pretty clear idea of which players are about to get another call from El Coacho and the fringe selections, well they don’t always have a lot of impact on the games, put it that way.
The last time we saw the Fernies play was… okay technically we didn’t see them play at all because there was no local TV coverage but they went to the Cyprus Cup back in early March. There they lost three of their four games but beat Hungary 3-1 in their last one to salvage a little something there. Read about that one in more detail over here-skees.
That tournament didn’t showcase the best of the team despite a strong squad but no worries. The 2017 Cyprus Cup instead marked a sort of turning of the page in the ongoing Ferns tale. It was Abby Erceg’s final tour with the New Zealand team, although injury meant she only played one of the four matches (plus Sarah Gregorius retired beforehand and Jasmine Pereira has retired since), while this new squad also coincides with the retirement of Katie Duncan. It was also a tour that saw three uncapped players selected and a few more still lingering in single-figure international caps. It was a tour that saw Tony Readings hand out experience to plenty of them while also flirting with a few different formations – the kind of thing you can do when you have positional depth like those new players will hopefully provide.
The Ferns play America over there in Trumpistan in two September friendly internationals, one in Denver and the other in Cincinnati. That’s the world’s best women’s football team in their own conditions so, again, getting competitive results is gonna be a tricky task. Even more with a couple fewer veterans than they’re used to (seriously, the reflection of having the first games without Abby Erceg played in the country where she plays professionally at the expense of the very non-professional NZF set up…).
Hey, that’s why this new squad was so exciting though. There are places available that weren’t previously available but instead of that then exposing the lack of depth in kiwi football, it gives an opportunity to a series of players who have spent the last few months emerging as the new depth. The offseason Flying Kiwis columns focussed on the transfer window. Chris Wood joined Burnley, Marco Rojas joined Heerenveen, Stefan Marinovic joined Vancouver Whitecaps, Bill Tuiloma joined Portland Timbers… there’s never been a migration of NZers around world football like this before.
It wasn’t only All Whites getting in on the fun either. Heaps of Footy Ferns were on the move as well, like keeper Erin Nayler joining Girondins Bordeaux, for example. Or, hey, how about Amber Hearn getting a gig with FC Koln or Betsy Hassett signing in Iceland with KR Rejkjavik? Those are all long term internationals who already had pro contracts though. The real fun has been in seeing girls like CJ Bott (USV Jena) and Katie Rood (Juventus) making the jump from Aotearoa club footy to the big stage. Seeing Hannah Wilkinson sign professionally in Sweden with Vittsjo. Seeing Olivia Chance join Everton and do enough to earn a second contract for the upcoming season. Yeah, that’s where this excitement has grown from.
First thing to say about the squad for the USA tour is that Tony Readings has picked 23 players, a bigger squad than he usually would although a standard sized squad for a tournament (there were 22 that went to Cyprus). That’s already a sign that he’s trusting this depth more than before. Next up we’ve gotta mention the ones that didn’t get called – Erceg, Gregorius and Pereira to begin with but also Katie Duncan. Three World Cups, three Olympics, 119 international caps and one massive legacy. At 29 years old she’s decided to move on to new goals in life, presumably ones that aren’t painted white with nets hanging off their frames. Fair call and best of luck.
Also missing from this squad is Amber Hearn, however. New Zealand’s all-time leading goal scorer with 53 of the suckers, she’s opted out of the tour. Readings didn’t specify exactly why but Hearn turns 33 in November and was just released from USV Jena (where CJ Bott has since signed) with the club more or less saying she was getting a bit old. Obviously that’s harsh but it’s also pro football. Hearn wasted no time in getting inked for Koln instead and the Frauen Bundesliga begins next weekend. There’s an international break that covers the USA tour, however you can gather why Hearn might feel she has something to prove at club level first and she’s not gonna get nearly as much out of this tour as some young gun might.
Young guns such as Katie Rood, Jane Barnett, Elizabeth Anton and Victoria Esson who have all been selected to potentially make their first caps – Rood with Juve and the other trio based in NZ – along with Malia Steinmetz and Martine Puketapu who went to Cyprus and are listed as uncapped… even though Puketapu came off the bench three times in that tournament – somebody’s gotta update those stats, yo.
Anyway, add in CJ Bott, Olivia Chance, Daisy Cleverley, Anna Leat and Aimee Phillips and that group right there are the next generation of Footy Ferns – all with no more than five caps and all definitely on the up. Cleverley is at Berkeley Uni in the States while Puketapu is also over there with Colorado. The two of them are probably the most promising of this new group, Cleverley a midfielder and Puketapu a striker, though they’ve all got potential. Chance is back in the squad after her exploits with Everton put her “back on the radar”, as Readings said. Rood just signed with flippin’ Juventus.
Tell you what else, Rood and Bott were able to secure their pro deals after being named in the inaugural Football Ferns Development Programme – the centralised squad of local based players meant to mimic the environment of a professional set up while also working to secure proper gigs overseas for those players. Well, hard to judge the programme this early and it’s definitely not perfect but Rood now plays for Juve and Bott’s at USV Jena so something’s working.
To be honest, NZ Football used that ‘we can’t afford it’ thing as a cop out when the Abby Erceg thing happened and it’s hard to believe a more generous allotment of finances wasn’t possible. However they were dead right about one thing and that’s that the best thing those fringe players can do is play professionally overseas. Now it seems like proverbial (if not literal) money has been put firmly in the place where one’s mouth exists… so to speak.
Esson and Leat, the reserve keepers, are also from the FFDP – Leat is so damn young she went to the U17 World Cup last year, she’s a super talent. Also from that squad are Meikayla Moore, Annalie Longo, Liz Anton, Aimee Phillips, Jane Barnett and Malia Steinmetz. Plus, yeah, Bott and Rood who have since moved on to bigger things.
Chances are none of them are walking into the starting XI. That much is still pretty well stocked with the heroic usuals. Erin Nayler in goal, Percival on one side of defence with skipper Ali Riley on the other. Back three (as was the norm in Cyprus, gotta think that’s the plan going forward) of Rebekah Stott, Meikayla Moore and probably Anna Green, midfield of some duo built out of Annalie Longo, Katie Bowen, Betsy Hassett or Kirsty Yallop with Hannah Wilkinson and Rosie White up front presumably with one of the midfielders playing further forward. Although a few of them are interchangeable – White can play midfield bloody well and Green’s an adaptable player too. Katie Bowen’s even played some defence in the past. That, friends, is what you call ‘options’ and any one of the new lasses who pushes for a starting XI only increases that.
By the way, Erin Nayler is two caps shy of her 50th and both Betsy Hassett and Annalie Longo are stuck on 99 caps… some hefty milestones on the horizon there.
One last note here, there are seven players in this squad still registered foremost to kiwi clubs. That includes the two young reserve keepers. Which means there are sixteen players picked who earn a living or an education from the game, that’s sixteen players able to spend almost every day improving themselves as footballers, competing against players of an equal or greater ability, creating pathways for themselves and others.
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