Sing Hallelujah And Rejoice For The All Whites Have Returned!

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It’s been a while. The last time an All Whites squad was named was when Fritz Schmid picked his battlers for the Intercontinental Cup in India back in June 2018 and safe to say a lot has happened since then. The Wellington Phoenix are onto their second squad overhaul in two years, and a second manager too. Eastern Suburbs won the Premiership with a team full of homegrown talent, several of whom are here. Winston Reid has played a grand total of zero minutes of first team competitive football. The U20 fellas went to a World Cup and played positive footy and scored goals. The ranks of Flying Kiwis are bigger than ever before. Lots has happened.

During that lost weekend of international footy the All Whites were basically just a hypothetical exercise. Who would you pick for a squad if one was named tomorrow? Doesn’t really matter because All Whites squads are just a story we tell ourselves to help the world around us seem more comfortable... like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or how rich people choose to believe that poverty is a weakness of personality. Except that the All Whites actually have a game scheduled this month. Two, in fact. Thus Danny Hay has had to re-enact the whole Charlie from Always Sunny with the Crazy Wall meme to try and figure out who actually deserves to be picked here. Because whatever baseline or depth chart there was before is outdated now after all this undead dormancy, the national men’s footy team laying awake in their coffin like Count Dracula on a cold winter’s Tuesday. Well, call extra security at the blood bank because it’s feeding time now.

We do know a few things about Danny Hay that inform all this. One is that his whole appointment was designed to bring a bit of culture and kiwi flavour back to the All Whites so that was always going to influence his selections (just as with the assistants he appointed). Another is that, as a guy with significant youth coaching experience as well as the success of that Eastern Suburbs team, he was always going to lean towards a few younger guys as well. Guys who have burst onto the scene since the All Whites last played, many of whom involved in that U20s World Cup campaign.

Fritz Schmid had four games in charge and he never got to tell the likes of Chris Wood, Winston Reid, Tommy Smith, Stefan Marinovic, or Ryan Thomas where to stand and what to do. He had a severely weakened side to play Canada and then effectively a B-Team for the tour to India. With every one of that quintet (a combo to rival all the great jazz groups) back for Danny Hay’s first tilt we’ve pretty much got the first proper All Whites squad since November 2017 when Anthony Hudson gallantly led this team to zero shots on target across two matches against Peru. (Hay’s made a point of saying he wants to change the style, thank Christ).

We’ve all been waiting a long time to do this. Here we go...

GOALKEEPERS

Stefan Marinovic - Wellington Phoenix (24/0)

Michael Woud - Willem II, Netherlands (1/0)

The Haymaker’s picked 24 players for this squad, explained by the yarn that he’s thinking of playing two distinct starting elevens for the two games. But despite having an extra player compared to the standard tournament-sized squad he’s only picked two goalies... which takes away the one funky aspect to the glovemen. Stefan Marinovic was already the incumbent but Michael Woud has put some real pressure on him with his development at Willem II in the Netherlands and for the NZ U20s. A commanding start to his Phoenix career eases some of that pressure for Big Stef but both these two will get their opportunities here. But who is the third stringer? Is it Max Crocombe after he won the starting gig at Brisbane Roar? Is it Nik Tzanev as he makes strides at AFC Wimbledon? Is it Oli Sail, even, sitting on the bench at the Nix? Does Jake Gleeson still own a pair of goalkeeping gloves? It should be Crocombe... but we’ll have to wait to find that one out.

DEFENDERS

Michael Boxall - Minnesota United, USA (32/0)

Liberato Cacace - Wellington Phoenix (2/0)

James McGarry - Willem II, Netherlands (0/0)

Tim Payne – Wellington Phoenix (18/2)

Nando Pijnaker - Torslanda IK, Sweden (0/0)

Winston Reid - West Ham United, England (24/1)

Storm Roux - Melbourne Victory, Australia (9/0)

Tommy Smith - Colorado Rapids, USA (36/2)

Bill Tuiloma - Portland Timbers, USA (24/0)

It’s here that we really begin to get a taste for what Danny Hay and his crew are trying to do... and also a taste for just how much the talent pool has grown over the last two years. Schmiddy knew all about that. He gave out debuts to ten players in four games – including sure-thing future regulars like Sarpreet Singh, Michael Woud, and Liberato Cacace. Danny Hay has picked seven uncapped players and four more who have only played in those asterisked Schmiddy games. And also eight players with 20+ caps, qualifying them for the International Regular rewards card scheme.

The big name here is Winston Reid. He did get some handy minutes for the U23s at West Ham recently, after twice pushing back that particular recovery milestone as the Hammers medical staff play it extremely cautious with him after such a long time out. He also played portions of three preseason games. But as far as senior top level footy goes you have to jump in a time machine back to the game he was injured in: 3 March 2018. Based on Hay’s comments so far there’s no guarantee that Winnie even plays here, and West Ham might prefer that option, but he’s included as a leader as much as anything. This is Hay’s first swing and he’s out there trying to establish a culture. Winston Reid is a big part of that. It’s all about the mana, my friends.

Tommy Smith is also here. He cops a bad rap sometimes from fans but he remains one of our top fellas, even with the Colorado Rapids affiliation (hey, they were racking up points at a playoff rate after Huddo left so we all know where the fault lay there – maybe he’ll turn out be a better podcaster instead). Whether or not Smithy is in our best two-man CB combo depends on the fitness of Winston Reid though, as Michael Boxall might have snuck in front of him at this point. Certainly if Hay’s out for the folks that’ll bleed for the jersey then you don’t get much more committed than Boxall. Those are three quality defenders to have, all with solid experience.

Bill Tuiloma is listed as a defender by NZF and also by myself, as his breakthrough with the Portland Timbers over the last 18 months has come almost exclusively as a central defender. He remains an option in midfield and probably as a fullback too if it came to that but CB has become his spot. Height is a factor (182cm while Smith/Boxall/Reid are all at least 188cm)... but he still wins a lot of headers, especially from set pieces (and at both ends too). For a guy whose career never had much stability before the Timbers, he’s now settled in at a single club getting regular game time in a single position. Gotta start recognising him as a central defender now.

Then the other guy is Nando Pijnaker. A top performer for the U20s and also for Danny Hay’s Eastern Suburbs team. He’s now over in Sweden with Declan Edge and a bunch of other Ole fellas at Torslanda (who weren’t able to avoid relegation from Division Two (fourth tier) despite picking up 11 points from their final five games – but it’s a long term process there, there won’t be any panic) and is one of nine players in this squad that are eligible for the Olympics next year... not including the three overage players they can take too. This is an ideal opportunity to bring guys like Nando into the environment, however his inclusion does highlight that whole thing about depth because there’s no room for the likes of Nikko Boxall, Sam Brotherton, Themi Tzimopoulos, Kyle Adams... or perhaps even a few Aotearoa-based options who’ve been capped in the past like Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi or Adam Mitchell. Themi’s filled in okay in the past but his time is probably gone with this team – he’s only getting in the way of folks like Pijnaker otherwise. The others will just have to keep knocking at the door because this is our most stacked position.

Louis Ferenc Puskas Fenton was initially in the squad but he injured his shoulder for the Nix on the weekend in the act of committing a blatant and inexcusable handball. Nah jokes, the ball didn’t touch his arm at all and anyone with a functioning set of eyeballs could see that. But he did hurt the shoulder at some point in that game and was seen favouring it a couple times so with his history of shoulder injuries... might as well chill on that one. Tim Payne comes in to replace him and although he mostly plays CB or CM, there’s already a queue of central defenders and coming in for a right back, with only one other RB In the squad, suggests that’s what he’s being lined up for. His one appearance for the Nix so far this A-League season came at right back in place of Fenton so there you go.

Storm Roux is the other right back, can’t really argue with that. It’s a position that Anthony Hudson always had big problems with and his boy Kip Colvey has retired to be a chemist or something and Dane Ingham is injured (and absolutely no guarantee to be picked even if he was fit). Roux’s injuries kept him out of a lot of games, the whole eligibility thing didn’t help either, but he’s been getting games for the Victory lately and without Fenton there’s no other specialist candidate. Matt Ridenton has played there in the past. So has Michael Boxall. Guys not picked include Justin Gulley and Noah Billingsley. Yeah this spot is still a problem. Even at age group level it’s mostly converted attackers like Callan Elliot.

Meanwhile on the left, which was equally a problem in the Huddo days of Tom Doyle vs Deklan Wynne... suddenly there’s depth coming out the ears. Doyle wasn’t even picked. Wynne’s injured but he might not have made it either when Libby Cacace is a lock and a guy like James McGarry is pushing through. And even then there are guys like Dalton Wilkins and Dan Morgan on the outside looking in. But JMG deserves this. It’d be nice if he got a few more minutes for Willem II but he’s on the bench every week for a team in the top half of the table in the Eredivisie. He’s been in the U23 mix too, playing the games against Aussie, and we already know that Des Buckingham had a big chat with Danny Hay prior to this squad being picked.

MIDFIELDERS

Joe Bell - University of Virginia, USA (0/0)

Michael McGlinchey - Central Coast Mariners, Australia (53/5)

Matt Ridenton - Newcastle Jets, Australia (5/0)

Alex Rufer - Wellington Phoenix (6/0)

Sarpreet Singh - Bayern Munich, Germany (4/1)

Ryan Thomas - PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands (18/3)

Bloody hell, this is turning out to be a long one. Anyway, the picture gets clearer from this point onwards. The Haymaker wants to play three up front which suggests a lovely modern 4-3-3 shape like he played with Eastern Suburbs. It’s also a shape that suits Chris Wood as you can surround him with playmakers. Conventionally that gives you two options in the midfield three: the triangle or the inverted triangle. So either one ten and two eights or one number six and two eights. For Suburbs he had Harry Edge in a defensive mid role with Owen Parker-Price (or Mo Awad) and Dom Woolridge in front. At an international level you probably wanna be more careful and have those two box to box types with the one playmaker in front. Just a prediction but we’ll see what happens.

Sarpreet Singh will play at the top of the triangle, surely. He’s played deeper for Bayern ressies but we all know where he’s at his best. Ryan Thomas is a tricky one as he can play anywhere in the midfield and even as a wide forward. Ideally you want him a little deeper to pull the strings in possession but there isn’t another obvious attacking mid candidate here, maybe just Mike McGlinchey (unless Marco Rojas does it, which is not one to sleep on... actually that sounds decent, Rojas has been playing in a midfield three for SønderjyskE this season).

Mike McGlinchey’s inclusion is a controversial one. He’s another who might be a bit too representative of past eras and looking at the way this team is likely to play it’s hard to see where he fits in. But then just look at the cap numbers in that midfield and that’s the money shot right there. All these midfielders have turned up at once in what used to be a massive problem position. McGlinchey might not last. He’s not even doing much at the Central Coast Mariners. But having him there for the transition isn’t a bad idea. Remember, it’s a long time until the All Whites play their next competitive games against a non-OFC team and plenty will change between now and then.

Once upon a time McGlinchey was the only reliable midfielder we had. Now we’re at a stage where we can look at a squad that ignores the likes of Clayton Lewis, James Musa, Gianni Stensness, and Cam Howieson, and still feel chuffed about who’s in there. Joe Bell was the standout amongst standouts for the U20s and it was only ever a matter of time until he got a senior call-up. That dude is the real deal. Meanwhile Ridenton and Rufer are doing their thing at A-League level and will be looking to turn that into consistency for the national team as well. They’ll have to. There are no guarantees any longer, just playing regularly in a professional environment isn’t enough to make you a regular for this team these days. Bill Tuiloma and Tim Payne can also play this role and they might even need to considering that Rufer’s the only one who brings any obvious muscle. For that reason it’s a little surprising that James Musa didn’t get picked ahead of probably Ridenton but Hay’s been keen to point out that The Moose remains in the picture.

FORWARDS

Elliot Collier - Chicago Fire, USA (0/0)

Andre de Jong - Amazulu, South Africa (2/1)

Elijah Just - Helsingör, Denmark (0/0)

Max Mata - Nõmme Kalju, Estonia (0/0)

Callum McCowatt - Wellington Phoenix (0/0)

Marco Rojas - SønderjyskE, Denmark (41/5)

Chris Wood - Burnley, England (56/24)

A couple funky ones here. Chris Wood has been dealing with a hamstring injury for Burnley but is expected to be fit to play West Ham this weekend and shouldn’t have any dramas kitting up for the All Whites. Also notice that Danny Hay has picked his entire front three from the Suburbs days: Just, ADJ, and McCowatt. All three of whom have gone their separate ways since so cool to see them reunited. Max Mata and Elliot Collier are in line for debuts, same as Just, while Marco Rojas is in a curious place as the country he lives in these days, Denmark, are playing Ireland in a crucial European Champs qualifier a few days after we play them so he might get a part-time job as a scout for the Danish team before the international window’s over.

This is an extremely fresh looking group aside from The Woodsman, who now that the All Whites exist again can get back to his task of becoming New Zealand’s all-time top goal scorer and then leaving that past record (Vaughan Coveny’s 28) in the dust behind him. One more will take him past Shane Smeltz into second place. By the way, looking at that list just now... people sometimes moan about Winston Reid missing so many All Whites games over his career, the injury prone fella that he is, but he’s got more caps than Wynton Rufer (23, with 12 goals) had in his career. Danny Hay himself only had 31 caps.

And part of that freshness is the absence of guys like Jeremy Brockie and Kosta Barbarouses. Brockie has had a rotten time of it sitting on the bench for Mamelodi Sundowns over the last year or so and even now that he’s out on loan he still hasn’t scored for Maritzburg. Brox can easily get himself back into contention but considering the state of his career he can’t go expecting national team call-ups. As for Kosta, he’s missing for personal reasons as he’s got a six-week old baby in the house... a house that he and his missus have only just moved into since he made the switch from Melbourne to Sydney. Understandable why this isn’t the best time for him to be involved... however can I say something that might be controversial? Of course I can, it’s my article. Kosta Barbarouses is a bit overrated. Great player who has been a valuable member of this squad for a long time... but he’s gotten a lot of games because of a lack of competition for his place. Look at this squad and the forwards that Danny Hay’s named. That competition exists now. Kosta’s good enough to hold them off but he’s by no means an automatic selection and he’s definitely got his work cut out to make a top eleven with the rate that a few of these others are developing. (God, imagine if we still had Tyler Boyd).

Part of that is because Danny Hay won’t be doing the big man/little man strike duo. He wants a front three with Chris Wood as the centrepiece. Which is nothing Kosta can’t handle, he might even be better in that role, but it does bring in a large crowd of wingers and attacking mids pushing for his spot. Eli Just, Marco Rojas, Callum McCowatt, and Elliot Collier are all in that crowd and will all get opportunities here. The more positive style of play will suit Kosta though – he’s a guy who we’ve never really seen the best of for the All Whites compared to the levels he’s reached in the A-League.

With a 24-man squad and two different starting elevens adding up to 22... it doesn’t take an independent review to realise that two fellas are missing out. Winston Reid is a possibility not to play, and if he does then one of the other CBs will have to settle for coming on as a sub (highly expect every player other than Reid to get minutes across these two games). Who’ll be the other to miss out? If Rojas plays deeper than it’ll be a midfielder. If Rojas plays forward then it’ll probably be somebody like Max Mata. Andre De Jong can play deeper if that’s the plan but he was a central striker for Danny Hay in the past, making Mata the odd man out. But that’s what substitutes are for.

You don’t need me to tell you that Callum McCowatt is a star in the making. You already know that. You probably don’t need me to explain that Max Mata has been scoring copious goals in Estonia lately either. That’s why he’s here. And Collier’s making his name in the USA, a tall and lanky striker but with the speed and skill to play out wide too – which is where he’ll fit in with this squad. Under regular circumstances these guys could have been eased into the international scene over the last twelve months but these are the All Whites we’re talking about. Regularity for this team is the happy place that players visualise as they step up to take penalties, existing only in the imagination. Just like the entire team did… until this week.

Predicted First XI: Marinovic / Roux, Boxall, Smith, Cacace / Thomas, Rufer, Singh / Rojas, Wood, McCowatt

Predicted Second XI: Woud / Payne, Tuiloma, Pijnaker, McGarry / Bell, Ridenton, McGlinchey / Collier, De Jong, Just

(Obviously the teams that play Ireland and Lithuania will be a mixture of the two)

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