Flying Kiwis – June 4

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Nikko Boxall – Viborg FF (Danish Division 1)

Two games in the space of a few days with promotion to the top flight on the line. Nikko Boxall’s Viborg finished second on the ladder by a single point and so were confident coming into it against Hobro but their opponents weren’t about to phone it in and be relegated just like that. Gotta earn it.

And even more so after the first leg, which took place on Friday morning NZT, where VFF strung together a decent performance away from home but they couldn’t find a way to put the ball in the net. Christian Sivebæk ripped one off the inside of the post from a free kick after 14 mins, it doesn’t get closer than that. But on half an hour they fell behind. Emmanuel Sabbi squeezed onto a loose ball to score it though even if he’d missed there might have been a penalty called against Nikko for his contact on Julian Kristoffersen as the striker tried to hold up the inside pass. Sabbi celebrated with a summersault although he botched the landing.

VFF responded quick and it took a brilliant save to deny Andreas Albers’ header. It kept on going that way into the second half, with Jersper Rask having a blinder in goal for Hobro. He tipped a rocket from Jeff Mensah onto the crossbar at one point. He got a foot to Mikkel Knudsen’s effort. He parried Sivebæk’s shot away to safety. Viborg had to escape a couple tricky ones at the other end (and Boxall was booked at one stage) too but for all their chances going forwards it was a tough defeat to take… albeit the confidence was there that they could turn it around for the home leg a few days later.

But… they didn’t. It started in the worst possible fashion when they conceded a corner almost from the kick-off and Vito Hammershøy-Mistrati’s delivery sailed directly into the net on 45 seconds. Yeah, season on the line and they conceded inside the first minute. Then in the 22nd, Emmanuel Sabbi showed up again when he skipped through the Viborg defence, a clever drag of the foot rolling him past Nikko, and he slipped that thing in for 2-0.

At that point, VFF were pretty stunned. Three goals down on aggregate playing away from home and it was going to take a mini miracle to get back into it. They tried. They threw plenty forwards but the longer they were kept out the more inevitable their defeat came to feel. In the end it was rather tame, Hobro winning 2-0 on the day and 3-0 on aggregate to retain their top flight status while Viborg are doomed, doomed I tell ya, to the first division once more.

Last season Viborg were only able to win one of their last five games to miss out on the promotion playoffs by two points (having been relegated from the SuperLiga in 2016-17 before Nikko Boxall joined the club). This season they made those playoffs but lost. Annoyingly the team that finished below them in third, Lyngby, went on to beat Vendsyssel in their own playoff so Viborg are the only one of the top three in the first division not to be promoted. Needless to say, in the world of modern football, they sacked manager Steffen Højer (and his assistant Ralf Pedersen) the next day. Nobody was much happy about all this. Nikko has one more season on his deal and he had a pretty solid season the whole way through so you’d assume he returns for another swing at it but yeah, there’ll be changes over the next few months for this team coz they were really banking on promotion.

VFF Director Morten Jensen: “We had clearly stated that the objective was a place in the Super League, and we did not get it so we must recognize that the season is not successful. We are incredibly disappointed and we know we have disappointed many people. We have felt fantastic support and have created an atmosphere that deserved more. We have been close by several times, but the bottom line is that we have not been good enough. We must, of course, thoroughly evaluate this in the management and the board, and that evaluation is already underway. We must turn over every stone so we can be best equipped for a new season. We still have ambitions, and we will continue to have an ambitious setup, but at the same time we are also very humble about the situation and the season that awaits us.”

Up Next: A dreaded offseason spent festering over missed opportunities

Michael Boxall – Minnesota United (American Major League Soccer)

Shot Boxy. Top work. Note that a few of the USL kiwis are also on this cause.

But brace yourself now because this week’s Flying Kiwis isn’t a great one for results. Mikey also had a double header, albeit with less on the line than his brother, but the results weren’t much better. First they faced Atlanta United away down in A-Town and that recent defensive turnaround took a blow when the Loons fell 3-0.

In fairness, it wasn’t as one sided as the result suggested. For a long time there it was 1-0 after Franco Escobar’s goal midway through the first half but Minnesota kept it tight with their tactics against the defending champs and in the 74th minute they almost drew level. It was Michael Boxall too. Hanging forwards after a set piece, he got on the end of a loose one but it took a sec to get the ball out from under his feet and his shot was saved. But the ball rebounded and after some pinball in the box Angelo Rodriguez reeled away claiming his final effort had crossed the line. It hadn’t though, Brad Guzan doing juuust enough to prevent it. Then Josef Martinez went and scored a double in stoppage time. Both on the counter attack, the second after a backwards header from the halfway line with Martinez standing about twenty metres offside had Ike Opara not played him back on with the silly header. Not as bad as the 3-0 result made it look but still a stink defeat. Mike Boxall with ninety and avoiding any silly headers goes good though.

Zone Coverage: “Heath continues to get his tactics spot on as of late and it almost earned his team tough road points on Wednesday. Even in a tepid performance, United’s defense was stout and organized, giving the team a platform to go on and potentially steal points. Minnesota almost did, but the offensive is completely sputtering.”

Then Philly came to town, fresh from drawing 1-1 with the Colorado Rapids – who Minnesota plays next – and that one went better but was in the end still another L. A heart-breaking one too, though that’s what they get with Mike Boxall sliding back to the bench. It had been a back three against Atlanta to for a home game the gaffer preferred Opara and Brent Kallman. Guts to him then because Opara made that cock up last game and Kallman gave away a penalty in the 16th minute with a clumsy challenge that also saw him booked. It really was a bad one, sprigs showing and all. Jamiro Monteiro scored the spottie for the lead.

But the Loons, who had already gone impossibly close, levelled up when Hassani Dotson snuck one in at the near post from a volley, though Philly responded thanks to a keeper’s error on a free kick, unable to get enough of a hand to Haris Medunjanin’s strike. With less than fifteen minutes to go Kevin Molino made it 2-2… but Kallman forgot to attack the ball waiting for a defensive header to come his way with only a couple minutes left and Auston Trusty ran around him to get there first and score the winner. Mike Boxall got dropped for something similar a month ago and he didn’t even concede a penalty that game… just saying.

Up Next: Colorado vs Minnesota, Sunday at 1pm (NZT)

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

One last game and then the last player in the Football Ferns squad would be free from club commitments. Before playing an influential role for the Fernies in their brilliant 1-0 win over England, Abby Erceg had a few things to take care of.

Erceg’s Courage aren’t up to a whole lot these days, sapped of almost all their internationals which counts for a large chunk of this squad being as strong as they are, and she showed them exactly what they’ll be missing for the next… let’s be optimistic and call it a month or so, as she popped up with a goal a couple minutes before the final whistle. Not enough to salvage anything from a 2-1 defeat to Seattle Reign, with Bethany Balcer scoring early and Erceg’s 89th minute goal coming just after Shea Groom had doubled the lead at the end.

It was already over though. The Courage couldn’t find an even later equaliser. Yet another game where they just weren’t able to score the goals they should have despite a fair number of shots. Since all the American internationals left, NCC have drawn twice and lost twice with only three goals scored in those four games. It’s about to get worse before it gets better for the defending champs as well.

(Although not immediately because a hat-trick from Kristen Hamilton five days later gave them a 3-0 win away to Orlando Pride – it’s pretty outrageous that this league is continuing during the World Cup with SEVENTY-THREE players missing during the tournament… but nobody ever accused the Americans of understanding football).

Up Next: Wednesday at 6am, the Footy Ferns are playing Wales in their final game before the World Cup (NZT)

Chris Wood – Burnley (English Premier League)

While we’re on the topic of the Footy Ferns, Chris Wood’s always a good one for championing the cause of equality in football and here’s a random quote of Tom Heaton, Woody’s teammate at Burnley, yarning about the Woodsman chatting women’s footy in the clubrooms…

Tom Heaton: “Woody’s a real expert and enthusiast about the women’s game,” said the Burnley skipper. Chris’s girlfriend, Kirsty, plays for Liverpool and he goes to watch her whenever he can so he often talks about it to the lads at Burnley, and I think we’re all a bit more aware of what’s going on. Woody’s also heavily involved with the New Zealand set up and he helped make sure there was equal pay for both the men’s and women’s national team. It’s something he’s really passionate about, so I’m sure he’ll be watching Saturday’s game closely.”

Yeah you’d better bloody believe he was, mate.

Elsewhere: “On the other end of the spectrum, it can be revealed that Chris Wood is one of the luckiest players in the Premier League. The Burnley striker made 26 fouls this season and yet only received two yellow cards throughout the campaign, which means only seven percent of his fouls resulted in punishment from the officials.”

(Teammates Phil Bardsley (41%), Ben Mee (33%), and Matt Lowton (31%) were all way more harshly treated as Burnley were the most carded team in the Premier League per foul committed – so Wood was really going good).

Up Next: Dude just got back from Ibiza so preseason fitness can’t be far away…

Tommy Smith & Deklan Wynne – Colorado Rapids (American Major League Soccer)

Inexplicably, the Rapids played twice this week and they didn’t lose once. They were on the back foot most of the way away to Philadelphia Union, conceding shots and 61% of possession, but Jonathan Lewis scored with less than twenty remaining on the clock to cancel out Sergio Santos Gomes’ first half opener and somehow it ended 1-1.

The goal was just their second shot on target for the night but it did the trick. Tommy Smith had earlier gone close on the give and go with Nic Mezquida, following up as Mezzie’s long range effort came back off the post but it got at him too quickly to control his header which ended up way over the bar as the man himself ended up prone on the floor. Both Wynne and Smith played full games, Wynne at LB and Smith at CB. It was a game that was delayed for lightning and it was a game which Tim Howard, the Colorado keeper, missed with a minor injury and instead watched a different team in a different state (he’s a part owner of Memphis 901 – Elliot Collier’s team! … though that game was postponed) but despite some late pressure from Philly, they hung in there and snuck a point near the end against a strong Union side.

That was then followed by a homer against MLS newcomers FC Cincinnati. It was the same back four for the Rapids, but only for seventeen minutes as Dekkers went down with an apparent ankle injury and that was his day over. No official word on the extent of the damage yet but he was back on the bench icing his foot – the injury happened as he trod on an opponent’s heel and sorta bent his foot the wrong way. Sam Vines came in to replace him as a sub.

Pro Soccer USA: “Colorado lost a key defensive contributor on Saturday as Rapids defender Deklan Wynne left the game in the first half with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Wynne has oft-been criticized by the fans and media for his mixed-bag performances (and perhaps due his close ties with fired head coach Anthony Hudson, who brought Wynne in largely due to their New Zealand ties), but has shown improvement in his second year in Colorado. More importantly, Wynne has been a piece providing depth at both the centerback and outside back positions. Casey was unable to provide an update on the injury: “Something happened with his foot,” he told reporters postgame. “I don’t know the extent, so I can’t comment on that.””

You wouldn’t wanna see him missing any more time at this point, when the team is doing so well all of a sudden and the defence that looked so abysmal under Anthony Hudson is now capable of actually keeping goals out. Wynne has been Mr Fix It for the Rapids since he arrived, a formerly specialist left back playing all over the backline, and as such, yeah, the criticism wasn’t always unfair. But he’s been playing much better this season, especially the last month or so.

This wasn’t a classic game to watch, but Colorado were able to take the lead just before the half through Andre Shinyashiki. That lead was ut down by FCC sub _ as he broke the defence with Tommy Smith caught out of position… but the level terms only lasted a minute before Mezquida slammed one goalwards which snuck through thanks to some mud keeping. Then a flick on from Diego Rubio from a corner after 82 mins polished off the scoring for a 3-1 win for an in-form Colorado Rapids side, been a while since we could say that about them.

The Rapids have now taken 10 points from their last four games having only taken 2 points from the 13 games prior to that (still bottom of the Western Conference though). Hopefully the All Whites get that same No-Anthony-Hudson bounce… but 19 months after he left the gig the All Whites have only played four games and haven’t got another one booked for another five.

Up Next: Colorado vs Minnesota, Sunday at 1pm (NZT)

Bill Tuiloma – Portland Timbers (American Major League Soccer)

Tell ‘em what’s what, Bill.

Unfortunately the grand re-opening of the Timbers home ground of Providence Park was a little spoiled by the visiting LAFC. Following twelve straight away games to start the season while the stadium was getting refurbished, the Timbers probably didn’t wanna run into leading MLS scorer Carlos Vela in top form, who picked off a horrible pass from keeper Jeff Attinella to score inside six minutes before helping to set up another later in the half for Diego Rossi. Vela is far and away the MVP frontrunner with 16 goals and 10 assists already in 2018, it’s unbelievable.

Portland came out better in the second half and immediately dragged one back thanks to Cristhian Paredes, but Latif Blessing restored the two-goal buffer ten minutes later. New superstar striker Brian Fernandez did give the homers something to cheer for though with a brilliant overhead kick late on, however there was no equaliser to follow and Portland went down 3-2 against the best team in the competition. LAFC have only lost once in 16 games to start the year.

Even more unfortunately the Kiwi x MLS injury bug might be catching because Tui was replaced after an hour, merely a couple minutes after being booked for a foul on Vela. He’d already clattered him once a few minutes earlier and gotten away with it but the pair clashed again going for a header. There was a colliding of heads and both players got treatment, with Billy pretty annoyed to also be shown a yellow (though it was probably overdue). He tried to continue but wasn’t able to… though it sounds like a hammy in the end rather than the head knock, not sure.

Portland had really targeted Vela too, it wasn’t only Tui. LAFC coach Bob Bradley had a right old moan about the “mauling” that the Timbers gave him – Vela was fouled eight times with no other teammate of his fouled more than once. But yeah, clearly it didn’t quite work as LAFC still won.

Tuiloma, pre-game: “[Vela is] on a scoring spree right now. We need to lock him down in the game, we can't let him turn, we can't let him loose, we just have to be tight and be ready for him. His left foot is a wand, actually. But like I said in the game we need to track him down."

Also huuuge laughs from Billy T over here in the background. Folks gotta know it ain’t safe to do filmed interviews on the side of the training pitch, come on. Pretty funny.

Up Next: US Open Cup away to Seattle Sounders, that one’s on Thursday at 2.30pm (NZT)

George Stanger – Hamilton Academical (Scottish Premiership)

Herald Scotland: “Promising Hamilton Academical youngster George Stanger could be the latest international starlet Scotland miss out on after an eye-catching performance at the Under-20 World Cup. The 6ft 3in centre-back wrangled £4.5million Norway and Red Bull Salzburg striker Erling Haland as the All Whites kept a clean sheet in their 2-0 victory over the Scandinavians to secure a last-16 spot in Poland. The 18-year-old's international call-up came on the back of a string of impressive UEFA Youth League performances during the Accies' run to the second knockout round against some of Europe's leading academy sides. And the worry for the Tartan Army is the Melrose-born defender will stick with New Zealand, qualifying through his Auckland-born mother Bid, rather than opting for his homeland.”

The NZ side that impressed everyone at the U20 World Cup just recently was full of familiar names, the starting eleven largely made up from players from the Wellington Phoenix and last season’s national champions Eastern Suburbs. Michael Woud has been a regular in Flying Kiwis lately after his exploits for Willem II. Joe Bell is a future star of this column just as soon as he finishes uni. But George Stanger is less familiar.

That’s because the defender, who is the son of Scottish rugby legend Tony Stanger, only recently committed to play for this side apparently after the video analyst at Hamilton Accies sent clips to NZ Football and the rest is history. Hopefully, since Stanger could always do a Tyler Boyd later down the line and pledge back to Scotland, the land of his birth and raising. But he looks a pretty decent prospect based on the U20WC. Stanger joined the Accies from Stirling Albion in January 2018 and although he hasn’t played for the first team yet he’s been a key figure in the Uefa Youth League lately as his side knocked FC Basel out before losing to FC Midtjylland – the club Winston Reid came up at. Stanger has one more year on his current deal so here’s hoping he cracks on into that first team next time around – he sure hasn’t done his case any harm the last two weeks.

Up Next: Holiday in Aotearoa, maybe?

Ali Riley – Chelsea FC (English Super League)

Might as well sneak in some bonus Footy Ferns content here, with the captain spilling wisdom first in a bit of post-match chat after the win over England and also form 90min where she’s apparently got a regular column going up during the World Cup so that’ll be one to watch out for, definitely.

Ali Riley: “No senior New Zealand team has won a game at a World Cup - our number one goal is to change that. No questions, no ifs, no buts. We have a pretty challenging group and - even more interesting - two opponents we had in the last World Cup. Seeing how the Netherlands did in the Euros, they'll be confident in their ability to manage a tournament. That team we saw four years ago wasn't the same Netherlands team that we saw at the Euros. We're trying not to focus too much on any individual match - obviously the pressure's on for the Cameroon game, and Canada are a really good team too. Once you get out of the group, anything can happen. We had a great result against Norway, we beat Mexico and we got pretty battered by the US, so Saturday's going to be a fun challenge - we have a confidence building, but we've also seen where we really need to improve some areas.”

Up Next: Footy Ferns vs Wales, mate

Winston Reid – West Ham United (English Premier League)

As you can probably tell, this is another extremely slim Flying Kiwis with the top female players all with the national team and most of the fellas beginning their offseason. So here’s some Winston Reid gossip.

Despite owner David Gold claiming that he’d be involved in preseason from day one after missing all of last season with injury, Winnie has constantly been linked with moves away from the Hammers. Most of that is fan speculation though. It’s people assuming that if they’re linked with one defender it means they’ll sell another, or people seeing a bloke on decent wages not getting on the park and figuring it must be time to offload them. Reid’s still got plenty to offer as a senior player in this squad, even if he isn’t considered first choice anymore after a solid season from Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop (although that might put them in the shop window too… especially Diop). Plus, like, at 30 years old and earning £70k a week on a contract that has four more years to run he’s a bit of a hard one to offload anyway.

So don’t freak out about the links, even if they do go ahead and sign another defender. Reid right now is relatively safe at the moment and if anything changes, you’ll hear it here. Can’t say the same for a few Hammers favourites though, as Adrian and Andy Carroll have both been released at the conclusion of their contracts. Rough on Winnie there, Carroll was his best mate in the squad and the pair have been locking it down in that physio room for years now.

Andy Carroll: “The lads have been a massive help. I’ve been here seven years with Nobes, and Winston [Reid], the three of us have been here the longest, and it does become like a family. The lads who come in fit straight into that. We have got a tight-knit team, and a good glue to the squad. Any lads coming in can feel that, and I’ve been a part of it for seven years, which has been great.”

Up Next: Get back to kicking footballs, that’d be the priority

The USL Crew

Kyle Adams (Rio Grande Valley) – Full game for Adams at CB, as per, but they fell behind 2-0 after half an hour and despite Orange County getting two red cards along the way (one in the 67th and one in second half stoppage time) they were only able to get one back for a 2-1 defeat.

Sam Brotherton (North Carolina FC) – Cheeky 1-1 draw away to Hartford Athletic here for NC, who are quietly stringing together a real decent season. Yamikani Chester cancelled out the goal they conceded after fifteen seconds (not ideal) and it was no less than they deserved. Regardless Sam Brotherton continues to play regularly and after his goal last week he was rewarded with a little bit of this too…

Chur the lad.

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