Flying Kiwis – October 30

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

There it is. Back to back NWSL championships for Abby Erceg as captain and her third in four seasons overall. What she’s achieving is unprecedented amongst kiwi footballers, although it’s pointless to compare. Just gotta rock back in your chair and throw them hands up for one of Aotearoa’s finest.

Even though they were at home this game shaped as an extremely tough one for Erceg and the Courage. They were up against a team in the Chicago Red Stars who had the MVP/Golden Boot of the league in Sam Kerr, a team that they hadn’t been able to beat in three attempts this season. Erceg is always one to play it straight and when asked about the task of marking Kerr ahead of the final she was typically ready to appreciate greatness...

Abby Erceg: “I don’t know. If I knew the answer, we would’ve shut her down by now, you know? She’s good. She just recreates herself every year. You think you’ve got her solved and then the next year she comes out and she’s better. I’m constantly checking over my shoulder to see where she is. She’s tough to play against. And she’s super quick, so that helps as well. Anytime you switch off against her, she’s going to be behind your back and scoring on transition.”

Sam Kerr had scored in each of the three times these two teams had played this season. But here, in the grand final, sh e had six shots but only one was on target as the Courage did as close to an impeccable job in defending her as it’s possible to do. Abby Erceg was imperious, winning every header and really trying to isolate the Aussie forward – who was visibly frustrated at the lack of service on a few occasions. But that was how NCC designed it. Through an excellent team strategy they were able to force Kerr to either play alone up top or to drop deep or wide (and thus away from goal) to go searching for the footy.

Technician Online: “When the ball did get past Mewis and Savage Sully in the midfield, the responsibility of stopping Kerr fell to the center back partnership of Abby Erceg and Abby Dahlkemper. The pair played fantastic on the night and held Kerr to just one shot on target. “My first halftime conversation was to Abby Erceg and Abby Dahlkemper,” Riley said. “I go, ‘I’m just going to tell you two, you were absolutely effing brilliant in that first half. What you did to Sam Kerr in that first half, if you do that for 45 more minutes, we are home and dry.’” In the second half, Erceg and Dahlkemper did just that. Kerr had a handful of chances here and there, but for the most part, she was unable to get much going forward. The one solid chance that Kerr did manage, she put wide of the goal without threatening Courage keeper Steph Labbe.”

Tell you what else helps? The fastest ever goal in NWSL grand final history. North Carolina have so many weapons in attack (all of whom ignored for the league’s Best XI but more on that later) and they can hit you so quickly. Lynn Williams came deep to collect the ball and turned and charged into the Chicago half. She flipped it wide to Jess McDonald, who whipped in the cross to Debinha and it was a little crowded but she managed to slam that thing home on the rebound. First blood to the Courage, who then struck again in the 26th as Williams lobbed one over for McDonald who scored with an excellent header. When Crystal Dunn then buried a third on the brink of the half-time whistle it capped an absolutely perfect first half.

All that was left to do was close it out and Samantha Mewis made that task a little easier with a fourth goal, heading in after Abby Dahlkemper put in a superb cross after a corner kick had initially been cleared. Just so clinical, the whole lot of them. It’s not like Chicago didn’t have their moments but the Courage led from the fourth minute onwards and if there’s such thing as championship pedigree then this team has got it. What was meant to be a challenging game turned into a 4-0 victory and ended with confetti falling and a trophy being raised, for the second year in a row, by captain Abby Erceg.

(The game was on ESPN as part of the NWSL’s post-World Cup broadcast deal with the US sports media giants which has kinda been a pain in the arse because it’s limiting our live stream abilities and it keeps the highlights off YooToob – and there was only a one minute package on the NWSL twitter - but here’s a full replay for ya to balance it out... the NWSL also announced that there’s gonna be an expansion team in Kentucky in 2021 and Seattle Reign head coach Vlatko Andonovski has been announced as the new USWNT coach, replacing Jill Ellis – not really Flying Kiwis related but Rosie White did play the second half of the season for Vlatko in Seattle so that’s a link there – she’ll need to impress a new coach to get a new contract).

As for that Best XI? Abby Erceg was named in the Second XI however the veracity of that top team is extremely debatable. Basically the trend was that if you played for the USA national team, you made it here. Despite the rather significant fact that most of those players missed three-quarters of the season because of that whole World Cup thing. Like, Rose Lavelle is in there having played just six games. And the Courage only had one selection despite winning the regular season shield. Even those same USWNT players were calling this one out and Paul Riley, NCC head coach, went as far as calling it a disgrace.

So great to see Erceg included on that Second XI but she definitely had a better claim to First XI than either of the two CBs that were selected. The voting is done by a mix of NWSL figures - fans (20%), media (20%), players (40%), owners,/GMs/coaches (20%) - so we can’t fully blame the fans here which is usually the case in these situations (see NBA all star voting). But yeah, this was a mess.

And here’s some other stuff...

Up Next: C-E-L-E-B-R-A-T-I-O-N-S ... (until the Footy Ferns play next month)

Ryan Thomas – PSV Eindhoven (Dutch Eredivisie)

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Thommo’s back. After such a long time out on the sidelines the All Whites midfielder is gradually becoming more and more of a factor for PSV Eindhoven and late last week he continued that trend by making his Europa League debut off the bench against LASK Linz. The game didn’t quite go how PSV Had planned it as they were held 0-0 at home by the Austrian side, failing to do enough to break the deadlock, but that moment in the 84th minute when he was brought on as part of a double sub alongside Kostas Mitroglou (and in place of Mohamed Ihattaren and Cody Gakpo) was a very significant one all the same. There have been a few New Zealanders who’ve gone deep in Europa League qualifying by the group stages but actually making it to the group stages is rare. Chris Wood is a name that springs to mind, he played in the groupies for Birmingham back in 2011–12.

There wasn’t much time for Thommo to accomplish anything. He was posted out on the left wing and only touched the ball a couple times, linking up nicely with his fullback once (but Mitroglou was then offside) and flicking on a header another. He also got told to get back up by the ref after not winning a free kick. Minimal pressure applied by PSV late on though – not helped by the fact that Thommo’s double sub meant they had no more changes left to swap out striker Steven Bergwijn hurt his hamstring basically immediately before the final sub and limped around clutching at it the rest of the way. No big drama in the standings though, PSV are still top of their group with seven points.

That was significant but even more significant was Ryan Thomas being named to start in the Eredivisie game on the weekend against AZ Alkmaar. He came in for the Ihattaren, the teenager carrying an injury, Bergwijn also missing this one (along with Donyell Malen). To add to the matter, midfielder Jorritt Hendrix and defender Nick Viergever were also suspended after red cards in the previous domestic game. All just clearing space for Ryan Thomas.

What a beautiful moment, what a fantastic opportunity, just what he’s been waiting all this time for... oh no...

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Whoops. Playing as a number ten, Ryan Thomas had a couple nice moments linking up and getting into good positions, the main one probably being when he won a free kick on the edge of the area for a handball. That had helped PSV crawl into the AZ half after a very sloppy and vulnerable opening ten mins or so. But then Thommo left his sprigs in a challenge and having initially been given a yellow card for the incident, the VAR took a peek and decided it warranted a red one instead and there you go. Thommo got a consolidatory handshake from the gaffer Mark van Bommel on his way to the tunnel but clearly not how he wanted his starting debut to go.

It only got worse for PSV after that. Down to ten men and missing a couple of their key attackers through injury they didn’t really have a lot to offer and then twice conceded just before the half, both goals scored by Myron Boadu, and they’d go on to lose a stunner 4-0 at home. That result drops them below AZ on goal difference and six points back from Ajax after 11 games. It also breaks a 53-game unbeaten streak at home in the Eredivisie.

You have to admire the lad for fronting up to the telly cameras straight afterwards though. Can’t have been easy and it says a lot about him. Based on a quick bit of maths, this was Thomas’ first ever red card as a professional and he’s only had 14 yellows in 146 games since moving to the Netherlands.

Ryan Thomas: “I can’t possibly blame the referee. It was a red card indeed. It was never my intention to hurt my opponent and it was a most awkward moment for the ream and myself.”

Yeah, righto then. The worst part is that a guy so short on match-fitness after more than a year on the sidelines now has to miss the next two domestic games – and right at a time when injuries and suspensions elsewhere was potentially going to give him a little opening in the starting team too. PSV chose not to appeal the ruling. And also unfortunate is that the second of those games is against Willem II, who James McGarry and Michael Woud are regular bench-sitters. McGarry has only been subbed on once so far while Woud only recently returned from a preseason injury but there was still a possibility of a Flying Kiwis Derby there, a possibility that’s now gone. Good thing for the Europa League then... and of course there’s an All Whites tour on the calendar in November too.

Up Next: For Thommo, probably the Europa League game away to LASK on Friday 8 November at 6.55am (NZT)

Chris Wood - Burnley FC (English Premier League)

The chat dominating Burnley’s 4-2 defeat against Chelsea was all about Christian Pulisic’s wonderful hat-trick. The American forward has had to bide his time for opportunities so far but given the start here following a handy cameo in the Champions League he was a match-winner. First goal he stole it off Matt Lowton and then held off Burnley’s central defence to score. Next up he drove forwards after a Willian intercept in midfield and he whacked in another just before the half. Pulisic completed his hatty with a header from a Mason Mount corner and then Willian made it 4-0 two minutes later. A lot of it from their own mistakes but Burnley getting swept off the paddock.

In happier news, they did score a couple late ones as Jay Rodriguez and Dwight McNeil each scored impressive strikes from distance to make the scoreline a little less embarrassing. But still hugely disappointing from the Clarets even if they wouldn’t have expected to get anything from this one against an in-form Chelsea side.

But you do have to wonder if things might have been different were they not missing a certain Chris Wood up front there. No sooner was Ashley Barnes welcomed back from a minor injury worry than Chris Wood pulled up with a sore hamstring during the week and was not considered fit for the Chelsea game – missing his first of the season. Without him they didn’t quite have that same directness to their play and it was through trying to play the ball out of defence along the ground that the first two goals were conceded.

Sean Dyche: “He didn't make today and we will have to wait and see if he has a chance for next week. We missed him because he is in good form.”

There’s no indication that it’s anything drastic but he is in doubt for the Sheffield United game coming up too, with Dyche saying he’ll be monitored throughout the week... which is just about perfect, ain’t it, with an All Whites game on the horizon?

Up Next: Away to Sheffield United on Sunday at 4am (NZT)

Annalie Longo – Melbourne Victory (Australian W-League)

Now this is some lovely news right here. Just as it was beginning to look like there might be a W-League season without a New Zealander involved the Victory go on ahead and pick up the best current player from the New Zealand domestic league. The 120-cap Footy Fern played in a title-winning Sydney FC team all the way back in 2012-13 but the one they call Flea has been dominating in the NWL for Canterbury in recent times – one of an increasingly shrinking group of domestic-based Football Fern regulars.

Speaking of, there might have been a little connection here too because taking up a role as assistant coach and academy coach is former Ferns assistant Gareth Turnbull. Longo is only the seventh player publically confirmed by the Victory with the season kicking off in two weeks and most teams have plenty of room left in their squads (a lot of which will be filled by NWSL players playing during the offseason of the American stuff) so there’s still time to nab a few more NZers in there. Last season it was only Rebekah Stott and she won’t be back since she’s moved to Norway where the seasons overlap. So yeah, big relief to at least get one in there. Hopefully with more to come.

Annalie Longo: “I’m really excited to join such a well-established and professional environment. The club and players have made me feel very welcome, and I’ve been really impressed with the overall standard and the resources Victory have provided. I’m looking forward to the challenge of an elite environment where I can continually learn and improve my game.”

Melbourne Victory Head Coach, Jeff Hopkins: “We’re very pleased to have Annalie with us this season and I know she’s just as excited to be here too. Annalie is obviously a very talented player, but it’s her leadership and experience that will also be an incredible asset to our side this season. She has accomplished plenty in her career having played in four FIFA Women's World Cups, so her return to the W-League and in particular to Victory is fantastic.”

Up Next: First game is away to Sydney FC at 6pm on Sunday November 17 (NZT)

Erin Nayler – Girondins Bordeaux (French Division 1 Féminine)

Sometimes you just get a tough game. Erin Nayler spent a year at Olympique Lyonnais as her introduction to French football but only ever got on the bench twice that season in league play, leaving for better opportunities and finding a great one at Bordeaux where she’s into her third season. Exactly the kind of circumstances that fire a player up to do well against their old club... except that Lyon are the best club team on the planet and in three previous games against them she’s conceded 14 times. So you could argue that a 4-0 defeat here was kinda better than average. (It was definitely better than the 7-1 defeat at home to this lot back in March).

It’s not just that the entire Lyon team were full internationals, it’s that they were all star players for their nations too. Amandine Henry scored first with a header at the near post from a corner kick inside twenty minutes, though the real damage was done in the couple spins before half-time when first Ada Hegerberg (the reigning Ballon d’or winner) was left unmarked with an easy finish after Henry’s header had come back off the crossbar, then Nikita Parris slid one in at the near post in stoppage time. Bordeaux kept it tight for most of the second half but Shanice van der Sanden came off the bench to pop in a fourth in the 79th minute and there you go.

The annoying bit for FCGB isn’t so much that they lost but that Montpellier also won, moving them four points ahead in the battle for the best of the rest in third place. Having said that, Montpellier plays Lyon next week (and they also haven’t met PSG yet). For Bordeaux, the next one is an important bounce back game against fifth-placed Soyaux.

Up Next: Sunday at 2.30am at home vs Soyaux (NZT)

Ria Percival – Tottenham Hotspur vs Olivia Chance – Bristol City (English Super League)

Gotta love a bit of Flying Kiwis Derby action and it’s even better when Olivia Chance is promoted to start against Ria Percival (who was always going to start) – both of them going on to play ninety minutes as well. And it was a bloody decent game too. Spurs had the better of it and went close early on when Percival, of all played, dished a one two to get into the area but just couldn’t hit the target with her shot. Olivia Chance wasn’t content to let that one lie either, she had a crack of her own after spinning around a defender but hers was dragged wide from distance.

Bristol City were at home and they took the lead in the 39th minute through Abi Harrison, a little bit against the run of play to be fair. But Spurs responded incredibly as Kit Graham scored two long range stunners in the space of two minutes – Chance and the BCFC midfield probably caught playing too deep there. Spurs then blew the opportunity to cash in from the penalty spot and put it beyond doubt as Sophie Baggaley saved Rachel Furness’ attempt and they nearly paid for it when BCFC had a late rally seeking that equaliser. But 2-1 to Spurs was the final result.

Up Next: Spurs are away to Crystal Palace at 3am on Monday and Bristol City are at home to London Bees at 4am on Monday, both in WSL Cup action (NZT)

Michael Boxall – Minnesota United (American Major League Soccer)

The fallout has been flowing all week after Minnesota United’s first ever playoff appearance ended in a one and done defeat against LA Galaxy. They played alright, but just couldn’t take their chances when they needed to and that was the difference between the two teams. Which has led to the question in Minnesota over whether this could be considered a successful season. Several players argued yes. The coach was diplomatic about finding both positives and also things to improve upon. But Mike Boxall is a competitive bugger, he is...

Boxy: “Right now, no. I think anytime you’re knocked out it sucks, especially when you outplay a team at home. To create the chances we did and then they score — they had maybe three or four chances and they score two of them. That’s just disappointing.”

Boxy again: “If you look where we’ve come from, this season is a massive step forward but to have our season done with what I know this team is capable of … another day we beat that team and we know we can beat LAFC at their place. I wouldn’t have put it past us to make it all the way to the Cup final. That’s how I see the pieces we’ve got, how good we are. It just stinks we have to wait another 12 months to earn that chance again.”

But that point about where they came from is huge. This is a team that made enormous strides between its firs t two seasons and this one, and of course as mentioned last week they’ve moved quick to set up for 2020 success as well – re-signing 2019 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara and his old mate Michael Boxall both to multi-year contracts. No official word on the specifics there but fantastic to see one of these kiwi MLS dudes with their long-term future nice and settled, that doesn’t happen as often as it would be preferred. Also great to see Boxall being rewarded fullstop since all the dudes around him are raking it up while he just sorta slides under the radar. Keeper Vito Mannone was also named as Goalkeeper of the Year for the MLS.

Twin Cities Pioneer Press: “The Loons agreed to guaranteed multi-year contracts with center back duo Ike Opara and Michael Boxall earlier this summer, a source confirmed Monday. The pair helped solidify a defense that allowed 43 goals this season, fifth-best in MLS. Opara was named MLS defender of the year last week, and Boxall has become United’s all-time minutes leader at 6,627 since he joined the club in summer 2017. Each player will be 31 years when the 2020 season starts next spring.”

Up Next: Probably All Whites duty

James Musa – Phoenix Rising (American USL Championship)

Staying in the States but dropping down a level, the Phoenix Rising may have shattered records through the regular season but if they thought the playoffs would be a cinch then they didn’t see Austin Bold coming. Phoenix had the bulk of the ball but the chances fell relatively even as neither team was able to find a breakthrough. The Rising scored 89 goals in 2019 but were kept scoreless here as it went all the way to penalties... where kicking at home in front of their fans probably made a cheeky difference in an 8-7 spottie victory. But James Musa was an unused sub so no need to dwell on it all.

Elsewhere the Simon Elliott coached Sacramento Republic won their play-in game 2-1 over New Mexico and then beat Reno 1868 on the road by a score of 3-1 to advance to the conference semis. So that’s cool. But Sam Brotherton and North Carolina weren’t so fortunate. Brotherton capped a really solid season for himself with another full game at the back there against Birmingham Legion... however a 2-1 lead with half an hour remaining turned into a devastating 3-2 defeat with the winner scored in the third minute of injury time. Absolutely brutal way to end their season.

Up Next: Saturday at 3.30pm, Phoenix Rising vs Real Monarchs (NZT)

CJ Bott – Vittsjö GIK (Swedish Damallsvenskan)

One final game to get through even if the Champions League dream was gone. And not content to let a brilliant season end on a negative note, Vittsjö came out against Djurgården and did the business. Having had the better of the first half it was still level at the break but Vittsjö soon took care of that when Clara Markstedt headed in smartly from a Lisa Klinga cross after 50 minutes and Markstedt added a second twenty minutes later to be sure of it. They could have got a couple more for a comprehensive performance and CJ Bott had a couple nice crosses into the box getting up that left flank but they’ll be more than happy with the win and the clean sheet. Bott was subbed off in injury time with the result in the bag.

Highlights available here.

That result means that Vittsjö finishes third on the table, eight points off champions Rosengård and four points behind the second Champions League spot which went to Göteborg – the same two teams that hogged them last season actually. Which is Vittsjö’s highest ever league finish so pop open the bubbly stuff, folks.

CJ Bott disappeared midseason with New Zealand for the World Cup (the Swedish league did go on a break for the tournament though) and then missed a little spell afterwards with that broken wrist but she still went on to play 19 times out of their 22 league games (17 starts), scoring twice and getting four yellow cards. Aaaaaand here are those two goals...

Up Next: Footy Ferns, surely

Marco Rojas – SønderjyskE (Danish Superliga)

It’s been a welcome trend to see Marco Rojas’ minutes increasing lately. After a ninety minute game against AaB this week he’s now only missed five minutes from Sonders’ last four matches, playing full games in three having only been there at the starting and final whistle once in the first nine league games of this campaign.

Less welcome were the three goals that Sonders conceded in the final dozen minutes of this one. Having led 1-0 since the 25th minute thanks to a Mart Lieder header, they looked increasingly vulnerable as the second half went on and were finally broken in the 79th min as Mikkel Kaufmann’s header snuck just inside the post. A point might have been alright... but in the 88th minute that man Kaufmann won a penalty going down against a rushing keeper (which looked suspiciously like a dive) and Kasper Kusk whacked it down the middle for the winner. But it wasn’t over yet because Kaufmann then got his second in the third minute of stoppage time just to rub it in. Typical late counter attack goal, that one. The Sonder manager called his team’s collapse unforgivable and bemoaned their inability to make it 2-0 while they were on top, leaving the game wide open when they could have been more ruthless.

Up Next: Cup footy against Brondby in the round of 16, Thursday at 6am, and then at the same time on Monday morning they’re away to FC Copenhagen (NZT)

Nikko Boxall – Viborg FF (Danish Division 1)

Another three points for Viborg and with Vejle and Federicia both only able to draw this week that shoots Viborg three points clear at the top of the table. And they were on it against Nykøbing too. They came out really aggressive and started an onslaught. Jeff Mensah and Jakob Bonde each scored in the first half and how it was only 2-0 after all that is a mystery. Even into the second half they continued to pester the Nykøbing goal but a combination of bad luck, bad finishing, and excellent goalkeeping kept it at two and that could have been disastrous for Viborg as they conceded midway through that second stanza and then Nikko and the rest of the defence suddenly had to get frisky to preserve the three points. But they did just that for their fourth consecutive win. Ninety minutes for Nikko if you were wondering.

Up Next: Away to HB Køge at 4.30am on Sunday (NZT)

Sarpreet Singh - Bayern Munich II (German Liga 3)

Every week it seems like Sarpreet Singh does something notable for the ressies. This week’s routine classy moment was a slick little turn in the midfield followed by a feed in towards the striker which was slipped through in turn for Kwasi Okyere Wreidt to score the opener against Waldhof Mannheim after half an hour.

But this is an academy team against a senior team and it ain’t easy. Waldhof then spent a good chunk of this game on the attack and after having a penalty saved and missing a free header six yards out, they finally drew level in the 59th minute through Michael Schultz. Things should have taken a turn when Max Chrsitiansen was sent off for the visitors but instead Mounir Bouziane scored three minutes later to put Waldhof in front. But into injury time and with a last ditch corner kick, keeper up and everything, Timo Kern rose up with a great header to steal a point at the death. 2-2 the final score.

Up Next: Away to SV Meppern, Mondat at 1am (NZT)

Clayton Lewis – Scunthorpe United (English League Two)

It’s been a weird season so far for Clayton. An injury in preseason came at a terrible time but then all of a sudden he was picked in the Olympic qualifying squad for the NZ U23s where he surprised a few people by not only bossing the show but also playing a heap of minutes and proving his fitness.

Scunthorpe had confirmed that he was back with the club in recent times but he still doesn’t seem to be getting a look in for a team that’s scrapping relegation as it is and could seriously use some creativity. But scoring for the U23s (hell, just appearing for the U23s to prove he’s still at the club) is a big deal. Scunthorpe did actually have a 3-1 win in midweek against Exeter and they chased that with a 1-1 draw away to Salford so those points lift them out of the dreaded bottom two... but fingers crossed they pay some attention to their kiwi international midfielder sometime soon.

Up Next: Scunthorpe vs Stevenage, Sunday at 4am (NZT)

Steven Old – Morecambe (English League Two)

Losing 2-0 at home to Forest Green was bad, especially with a late red card to one of their strikers, but at least Forest Green are up in the playoff zone and playing decent football. Losing to a late goal against Stevenage, lifting that lot above Morecambe and dropping the Shrimps to last on the table was much worse though. Steven Old played all of both of those games.

To make matters worse, their well-liked manager Jim Bentley then resigned from his post, ending his reign as the longest serving EFL manager after eight and a half years in charge (following nine years as a player), to take up a gig with Fyle in the National League. Gareth Ainsworth at Wycombe now wears that crown having been at the club since September 2012. Burnley’s Sean Dyche is third on the list and, incredibly, Jurgen Klopp is sixth (October 2015) across the entire football league, all four divisions... which just goes to show how interchangeable managers are becoming.

Up Next: Sunday at 4am against Leyton Orient (NZT)

Tommy Smith – Colorado Rapids (American Major League Soccer)

Ah, the good old days...

Up Next: Nothing much, maybe some All Whites and then a holiday

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