You wouldn’t believe it but the All Whites have confirmed another game for later in the year. Three days after they take on Ireland in Dublin in November they’ll meet Lithuania in Vilnius, making full use of the FIFA window in the process. The first games since that rando tournament in India a year ago and hopefully, with the European proximity, the first opportunity to have something close to a full-strength squad since the World Cup qualifiers against Peru in November 2017. We’re still four and a half months away from this double-header and the All Whites don’t even have a coach at the moment… but at least they exist again.
The hope is that there’ll be a new gaffer appointed in October with plenty of time to get ready and use this mini-Euro tour as a jumping off point. Gotta start somewhere after all so even if both games have the potential to be quite competitive in their own way it’s probably best to treat this one more as an opportunity to hit the reset button on a team that, by the time these games roll around, will have pretty much been a non-entity for two full years. TWO. FULL. YEARS. They haven’t played a relevant game with a proper strength squad since the intercontinental playoffs in November 2017. Half the next World Cup cycle already wasted. It’s almost unthinkable in this day and age but there you go.
A lot can change in two years. A lot can change in two weeks, just look at Sarpreet Singh. Over the course of two years we’ve seen transfers and injuries and emerging young players and we’ve had a coach come and go and quite honestly the next All Whites squad is going to look rather different to the ones we got used to under Anthony Hudson (and, briefly, Fritz Schmid – who never had anything close to a full-strength squad to choose from). So let’s take a peek at how it all stands, hey?
Locked In: Stefan Marinovic & Michael Woud
Squadies: Max Crocombe
Fringers: Nik Tzanev, Jake Gleeson & Oli Sail
Bolters: Cameron Brown, Scott Basalaj & Conor Tracey
Stefan Marinovic remains the number one even if he hasn’t played for the All Whites since November 2017 and despite some weird club situations in that time. But it’s no longer a clean cut situation with Michael Woud emerging upon the scene. His breakthrough with Willem II, where he’s now the backup keeper, combined with his performances at the U20 World Cup, make it clear that this dude is ready for senior footy. Not the finished product by any means but definitely one who is ready for any All Whites squad and Big Stef is going to need to show some steady hands at the Welly Nix to hold him off in November.
Elsewhere you can pretty much take your pick. It’s mostly young dudes on the come up, with Max Crocombe leading the pack having been in the last couple squads. He spent a year as a backup with Salford City as they were promoted to League Two last season but has been linked with Brisbane Roar recently (which was an unexpected one). Nik Tzanev is also one who’s been around the squad though he’s further away from senior footy at AFC Wimbledon. You’ve got Oli Sail who is primed to be the Welly Nix backup.
Jake Gleeson is currently without a club after injury ended his Portland Timbers career in 2018. He’s the best of the rest but he also hasn’t featured for the All Whites since 2014 and the health thing is a factor. Have hardly heard a peep out of him since his Timbers contract ended, somebody go check on him if you’ve got a contact. Elsewhere, the three bolters here are fellas from the Premiership – I’m not gonna explain the bolters too much in this thing, they’re just there to fill out the books. Obviously there’ll be others at US colleges or playing in Oz or maybe in Scandinavia or lower leagues in England but this isn’t meant to be comprehensive, just a recalibration of where we’re at with our missing national team. So no blocking us if your boy ain’t there, please and thank you.
Locked In: Liberato Cacace
Squadies: Deklan Wynne & Storm Roux
Fringers: Dane Ingham, James McGarry, Tom Doyle, Louis Fenton & Justin Gulley
Bolters: Dalton Wilkins, Niko Kirwan, Callan Elliot, Jack-Henry Sinclair & Tyler Lissette
The starting right back for the Peru games was Kip Colvey who has since retired so scratch that one out. Fullbacks were always the toughest position for Uncle Tony in his time, alternating them as often as he does his Wikipedia page. Since then some positive things have happened and we’ve actually got a few half-decent left backs in particular coming through. Deklan Wynne has stuck around in MLS as something of a utility back and that form and selection has kept up even after Hudson left so that’s a huge positive – he’s improved miles since he last played for NZ. However not as quickly (or Rapidly, should I say) as Liberato Cacace… who feels like the only locked on fullback as things stand and he only has two international caps. But that lad’s the real deal, as we all know.
James McGarry hasn’t had the momentum of Willem II teammate Michael Woud but that doesn’t overshadow the fact that he’s in the midst of a fully professional environment in the top flight and the left-back/striker is getting some good preseason minutes these days too so especially by November he oughta be close to the top team and his versatility will help the fact that he’s third-choice left back at best. Then Storm Roux, I mean, he has to be there, right? Who the hell else can you trust at right back? Louis Fenton is an option, of course. Even if he’s much better as a wing back – although we don’t even have a coach let alone a preferred formation at the moment. What would probably happen if there was a World Cup playoff tomorrow is that somebody like Michael Boxall would play on the right.
Tom Doyle is in a tricky place having been released by the Phoenix. That was a strange one even with Cacace’s rise but if Doyle gets another A-League gig then he’s a good shot at edging McGarry out with his seniority. And Justin Gulley’s hanging about as a fringe dude from the Schmiddy era. Cheeky shout outs to Dalton Wilkins who’ll get there eventually if it’s sooner or if it’s later. Niko Kirwan’s a midfielder by trade but does his thing at right back at club level these days which just happens to be a shallow position at the moment. Callan Elliot’s Phoenix/U20 connection has him in the mix even if he’s really a much more attacking player. Jack-Henry Sinclair is right on the fringes as one of the best local fullbacks. And you could do a lot worse than someone like Tyler Lissette, who’s been getting it done in those middling Swedish since before it was cool. Obviously a lot of candidates there and that’s down to a lack of existing lock-ins… probably the most wide open area out there so some things never change.
Locked In: Winston Reid, Tommy Smith, Michael Boxall, Bill Tuiloma
Squadies: Nikko Boxall, Sam Brotherton
Fringers: Themi Tzimopoulos, Adam Mitchell, Nando Pijnaker, Steven Old
Bolters: Scott Hilliar & Kyle Adams
This lot, on the other hand… mate, it all depends on fitness and availability but the All Whites are never short on CBs. Winston Reid is taking full part in West Ham’s preseason currently and given 18 months of the Hammers dealing without him he’s unlikely to be first choice which presumably means it’s less likely he gets mysteriously and conveniently injured the game before any international break. Tommy Smith feels like a bloke that could go either way, he’s already skipped out to MLS so international retirement isn’t out of the question, but he’s played some big games over the years and remains a top choice if he’s around. Michael Boxall, no explanation necessary. And Bill Tuiloma is probably a midfielder in this team so keep that in mind but it’s at CB that he’s bossing it for Portland so same deal here.
Moving on to the depth, Nikko Boxall’s Viborg narrowly missed out on promotion to the top flight in Denmark a few months ago which sucks for what that could’ve meant for his career but even still he’s an every week starter at a team just below that level. Deserves to be in the mix after debuting under Fritz Schmid. And Sam Brotherton’s been playing well at USL level this year after a couple rough seasons at a rough club in Sunderland (and a serious injury while out on loan). They’ve invested a fair bit in him, nine caps, so that keeps him slightly ahead but honestly there’s not a whole lot between him and the fringers and it’s only that experience that has him there.
Themi Tzimopoulos… he’s 33 years old, his Greek team just got relegated, he’s never really been first choice… he’s not really who you want at a World Cup in 2022 if we qualify so don’t really see the point in selecting him over guys like Mitchell or Pijnaker who are holding out for the right pro environments as we speak. Guys that have the potential to really come into prominence by 2022 and who’d benefit from the exposure. Then there’s Steven Old because, you know, everyone loves a veteran journeyman. I realise this is the same reason I just gave for not picking Themi but Oldie wouldn’t have any expectations and he could be a stopgap if the lock-ins are absent. Then there’s Scott Hilliar doing solid things at NPL level in Oz after a couple fantastic seasons for Team Wellington and Kyle Adams has been captaining his USL team and was twice called up to the Houston Dynamo squad for cup games. Always gotta reward the hustle. Tim Payne and Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi are also more than serviceable CB alternatives despite being listed as CMs here. Versatility always helps at international level.
Locked In: Ryan Thomas & Mike McGlinchey
Squadies: James Musa, Alex Rufer, Matt Ridenton, Joe Bell & Cam Howieson
Fringers: Moses Dyer, Tim Payne & Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi
Bolters: Leon van den Hoven & Gianni Stensness
Top two, no doubts about it. Thommo is fitness-dependant as he still isn’t back to full capacity as PSV get into their preseason but Wee Mac is as dependable as they come even if, you know, Central Coast Mariners. Bill Tuiloma is a lock in as well, to be fair. Just that he’s listed as a defender here.
That’s all pretty standard but beneath them we’ve got a really interesting group of squaddies with James Musa being a consistently underrated presence – if he’d gotten his green card a couple years ago he’d already be an MLS force having dominated USL for the last few years (although he’s had to play off the bench a bit recently with the midfield strength of his Phoenix Rising side). Alex Rufer is the reliable local defensive midfield option that both the Nix and the All Whites have been begging for, shout out to him after a massive breakout season. Matt Ridenton’s breakout was a year earlier and he’s kept that up with Newcastle, not as polished in a few crucial ways but he’s around... and is another sneaky option at right back.
Joe Bell is going to be a key player within a few years and it wouldn’t be the worst thing to fast-track him into some senior international experience. Then there’s Cam Howieson who is on a level with the three fringers but has been the most consistent at club level (with Payne and TAHW playing more as defenders these days) and it’s always helpful to know what you’re getting when it comes to that squad depth. Funky thing is that midfield has always been a position where we’ve struggled to develop players yet here are a whole bunch and only like two of them are older than 25.
Locked In: Chris Wood, Kosta Barbarouses, Marco Rojas & Sarpreet Singh
Squadies: Jeremy Brockie, Callum McCowatt, Andre De Jong, Elliot Collier & Clayton Lewis
Fringers: Myer Bevan, Elijah Just, Monty Patterson, Henry Cameron & Jai Ingham
Bolters: Ryan De Vries, Max Mata & Logan Rogerson
Combining these two positions, forwards and attacking mids, because otherwise they each look kinda sketchy. Nothing needs to be said about the locks other than that Sarpreet Singh, on the basis of his Bayern transfer, has vaulted himself ahead of the rest of the squadies if only so that other teams can look upon our squad lists and despair… whether he holds onto that position will depend on his development but he does also offer something stylistically that’s a little unique.
Callum McCowatt hasn’t played for the senior All Whites yet, neither has Elliot Collier. Both have a knack for scoring goals which cannot be ignored. For McCowatt he’s about to buckle down for a season with the Welly Nix with a long professional future on the cards. Collier’s in a more streamlined position as he tries to get back to the MLS with Chicago Fire with his form in the USL and a hatty last week won’t harm that cause. Andre De Jong debuted under Schmiddy and is about to go pro in South Africa. Which is also where Jeremy Brockie is if you’re looking for some solid veteran leadership. And Clayton Lewis might be onto his last lifeline as a Player With Potential but he’s coming into a big season for Scunthorpe which could elevate him into Proper Player status (or the opposite, it’s make or break).
Myer Bevan has already fallen off the cliff but is trialling with the Welly Nix at the moment which would be a great move for him. Monty Patterson, Henry Cameron, and Jai Ingham have mostly flattered to deceive at international footy, benefiting from a lack of attacking options but suffering from the lack of an attacking manager under Anthony Hudson. All three of them have struggled to find a settled club home and could easily be told they need to re-establish themselves if they want to stay ahead of the likes of Elijah Just, Max Mata, and Logan Rogerson. Could chuck in a fair few other deep dive options too but that’s more than enough for now.
THE PREDICTED SQUAD
GK: MARINOVIC / WOUD / CROCOMBE
FB: CACACE / WYNNE / ROUX / FENTON
CB: REID / SMITH / M.BOXALL / TUILOMA / N.BOXALL
CM: THOMAS / MCGLINCHEY / MUSA / RUFER / BELL
FW: WOOD / BARBAROUSES / ROJAS / SINGH / MCCOWATT / BROCKIE
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