Initially this was gonna be one article. The All Whites Under 20s are off to another World Cup, so what’s been happening with the dudes who were at the last one? But then the introduction got so out of hand that it spun off into its own thing about all the international players at that Aotearoa-hosted affair in 2015 that have already gone on to achieve big things in their careers.
But we still need to get to that kiwi squad because, dammit, they were good! A goalless draw against a strong Ukrainian side got things up and running before they fell back to earth getting pumped 4-0 by the USA. However in their final match a 5-1 victory over Myanmar meant that the young NZers and hosts became the first NZ U20 side to make the knockouts of a youth World Cup.
Good for them, it was fantastic to watch. In the knockouts they found themselves behind in the first half against Portugal thanks to Raphael Guzzo’s goal but a Stuart Holthusen equaliser had kiwis dreaming… before Gelson Martins scored a beauty with just a couple minutes remaining in the regular ninety. A tough way to go out but a proud way to exit as well.
There was plenty of work done to ensure we had a competitive team as hosts of the event. For the two seasons prior to the World Cup, the NZ Premiership featured a mystery club called ‘Wanderers SC’. That’s SC for ‘special club’, not ‘soccer club’ for those of you who get upset at that kinda thing. The Wanderers side was made up of Under 20 players and while they only won six games in two years, they did allow a whole bunch of competing players to work together as a unit, forging the core what’d become that eventual squad. Nine of the 21 players were from the Wanderers with several more having been there and moved on to bigger stages.
Meanwhile five more were plucked from the Wellington Phoenix academy and the rest composed from all over the show. A couple in England, a couple in America, a few others based out of Europe. Several have already gone on to play for the All Whites and several more will probably do so in the future after getting themselves professional deals around the place. Here are the continuing stories of the 21 jokers that represented Aotearoa at the 2015 FIFA U20 World Cup…
UC Santa Barbara Gauchos - USA
The youngest player in the 2015 squad by more than four months, Billingsley is one of a couple of dudes who’ll be reprising their selections at South Korea 2017. Takes a hell of a player to play to two U20 World Cups. Last time Noah was one of the Wanderers but within months of the tournament he was off to America to take up a college career. A Wellingtonian by birth, he also played NZ Prem footy for Waitakere and scored twice with three assists in his first (freshman) season for UC Santa Barbara. He scored the first goal against Myanmar at the 2015 tourney.
Eastern Suburbs – New Zealand
A product of the Wellington Phoenix academy. He was with the Nix youth team when he was picked for the 2015 U20 World Cup and the midfielder played three games there, having already been a part of the U17 World Cup two years earlier. Didn’t get a run in the A-League and was signed up by Hawkes Bay United in 2016 as a replacement for Hamish Watson who, ironically, had just signed for the Phoenix. Was a regular for Eastern Suburbs in the last NZ Premiership.
Sunderland – England
All Whites Caps: 7
A strong defender who reads the game well, Brotherton was one of the breakout players of the 2015 WC crop (starting every match in NZ) and he quickly found himself playing in the Uni of Wisconsin Badgers setup afterwards. Former captain of Westlake Boys, he immediately became a first choice back for Wisconsin, playing 33 times over two seasons, and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team in 2015 and the All-Big Ten second team in 2016. Might have gone one better in 2017 but skipped out on his college eligibility to instead sign a pro deal until July 2019 with Sunderland. He made a handful of appearances with the under-23s there in his initial couple months and might even get a chance with the first team next term depending on how that squad looks now that it’s been relegated from the Premier League.
Xavier University – USA
Coming outta Nelson, Brown was already in the American University system in 2015 and it’s there that he remains. Had a few different offers after playing as a left back at the 2013 U17 World Cup and chose Xavier where he had a huge freshman season – starting every game for a team that kept a clean sheet in 11 of 23 matches and being named in the Big East All-Rookie and All-Big East Second XIs. He’s turned that into back to back All-Big East First Teams in his two seasons since. 60 games in three seasons with his senior campaign still to come in 2017. Funny story, he was teammates at Xavier with fellow kiwi and now-Tasman United striker Alex Ridsdale, also from Nelson, while NZer Joash Sutherland just completed his second season with XU.
Andre De Jong
Canterbury United – New Zealand
Fred’s boy was an East Coast Bays rep when he played for the U20s (although he played both Wanderers seasons too) but he signed with Canterbury United in 2015 to play alongside Aaron Clapham and the lads. Seven goals in his first season with Canterbury had his coach there talking about an All Whites call-up. That hasn’t happened yet but he followed it up with another five goals and seven assists in the 2016-17 season and the attacking midfielder remains one of the best young players at that Premiership level.
Northcote City – Australia
All Whites Caps: 9
As this thing is written, Dyer is busy polishing off a short term deal with Northcote City in Victoria, playing in the second tier of the National Premier Leagues there in Oz. Scored a beauty of a goal in his starting debut there too. Dyer was a Wanderer back in the day and has been playing for Eastern Suburbs since, though most famously he’s a nine-cap All White and a favourite of Anthony Hudson’s. Dyer made his international debut as an 18 year old against South Korea and was a regular during the 2016 Nations Cup. He’s also gonna be returning to Korea very soon after being named the U20s once again and should have a good shot at making the Confederations Cup squad straight after that.
Achilles ’29 - Netherlands
One of a number of lads to come through the Ole Academy - Noah Billingsley and Cory Brown among them from within this squad (Ryan Thomas the most famous graduate) – and that’s not really a surprise given his dad Declan Edge runs that sucker. Edge is a defensive midfielder by trade and was a rare New Zealander playing in Italy at the time of his 2015 WC call-up, on the books with Vicenza Calcio in Serie B. Never did much beyond the youth team there and briefly played for FC Pisek in the Czech Republic before impressing enough on trial with Achilles ‘29 in Holland’s second division to win a contract there. He was able to get ten games in for that lot over the second half of the season but his contract runs up next month and with Achilles being relegated to the third tier his future’s uncertain right now.
Birkenhead United – New Zealand
Third choice keeper in the squad, Hirst didn’t get on the park during the 2015 comp. He was a Wanderer back then and thus probably has the least likely pro career ahead of him… but you never know. Hirst has also been spotted around the Waitakere youth system in the past and was the starting keeper for the Birkenhead United team that won the 2016 Chatham Cup.
Akron University Zips – USA
Scored the goal against Portugal in 2015 and has consistently scored goals for Akron too since joining their programme back in 2014 out of the Wanderers SC. Named First Team All-MAC in 2015 and cracked the conference seconds in 2014 and 2016, Holthusen has 19 goals and 10 assists in 54 games for his uni (28 of them starts) – winning the team’s top goal scorer mark in his third campaign. Holty has one more year of college eligibility ahead of him and if he can build on what he’s done so far then he could even be an outside shot at getting drafted into the MLS.
Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi
Auckland City – New Zealand
All Whites Caps: 5
One of the Auckland City boys. Did the Wanderers thing back in the day and before that had spent a stint in America with MLS side Real Salt Lake’s academy group. Has since been an impressive performer in the midfield for ACFC, winning local comps and representing the team at the 2015 Club World Cup but a serious knee injury has put his career on hold since the lead up to the 2016 CWC. Had played a few solid games for the All Whites under Hudson too, fingers crossed he’s back in business soon.
Auckland City – New Zealand
All Whites Caps: 8
Another Auckland City lad, another former Wanderer, another young player who has won the affections of Uncle Anthony for the All Whites. Lewis is probably on the verge of a pro career overseas, having trialled well at Burton Albion and made his name known at a couple other clubs, but all in good time amigo. He’s been to Club World Cups with Auckland City and despite only turning 20 in February he’s already a regular in All Whites squads and one of the finest players in the NZ Premiership. Clay is also having another swing at the U20 World Cup after being named captain for the 2017 squad, a Confeds Cup spot likely to follow.
FF Jaro - Finland
At the time of the 2015 tourney, Brock had been splitting his time between Wanderers SC and Sunshine Coast in Oz. After it he started splitting time between Canterbury United and Burlingame Dragons (from San Francisco). The Dragons play in the Premier Development League in America, which is the fourth tier of competition, and Messenger was able to being a couple buds from there back to Canterbury with him. In January of this year he packed up and left for Finland where he signed for second division team FF Jaro and that’s where the fullback remains today.
NK Celje - Slovenia
Born in Croatia so you already know he was a Central United lad, Mitchell hooked up with WaiBOP after the Wanderers thing and he even captained the Waikato-based side before trialling with Red Star Belgrade over in Serbia. Must’ve done well because they gave him a two-year contract. This was in 2016 but he never made a matchday squad there, instead being loaned out to second division OFK Beograd where Mitchell played seven times. In February he left Red Star to sign with NK Celje in Slovenia. Mitchell has been included in All Whites squads before but is yet to debut.
Ipswich – England
All Whites Caps: 9 (1 goal)
A tricky winger who did well in 2015 and is the only graduate of this team to have actually scored for the All Whites – the equaliser in the 1-1 draw with America – The Python was already with Ipswich back then, probably cleaning boots as a trainee for Tommy Smith. Monty is yet to appear for the Ipswich first team but has progressed through the 18s to the 21s and last season spent a couple loans out at Braintree Town where he scored once with three assists in 12 league games – that’s in the National League (although they just got relegated). Eh, not his problem, Monty signed a pro contract in 2016 and had it extended another year last month.
Wellington Phoenix – NZ/Australia
All Whites Caps: 3
Bloke here had already played once for the All Whites before the U20 WC, getting 11 minutes off the bench in a friendly against South Africa. He’s since played a couple more times under Hudson but Riddo’s career hasn’t quite taken off like it looked like it might when he first debuted for the Nix as a 17 year old only recently graduated from Saint Kentigern’s College. Never really been given a regular shot with the Nix despite even popping up with a few goals here and there, and emerged over the last season more as a utility player than anything else – getting minutes across the midfield and even at right back. Still only 21 and a big season next time should have him in line for another contract.
Wellington Phoenix – NZ/Australia
All Whites Caps: 3
Son of Shane, nephew of Wynton. Alex Rufer has been around the place for quite a while, playing at U17, U20 and U23 level for New Zealand and thrice appearing for the All Whites under Anthony Hudson too (including a spot off the bench in their last game vs Fiji). His chances for the Phoenix have been harder to come by since first signing a three year deal in 2013 – a horrible broken leg not helping – but there was drama a few months back when Rufer was called up as an injury replacement for the national team despite being so far back in the picture at the Nix that he wasn’t even playing regularly for the ressies. Is under contract for another season with the Phoenix but after only playing 48 A-League minutes in 16-17 there are rumours he’ll look for opportunities elsewhere.
Wellington Phoenix – NZ/Australia
Coming through the ranks at the Welly Nix after time as a teenager with Wanderers and Auckland City, Sail remains one of the more promising goalkeeping talents in NZ. He’s been a regular for the Phoenix Reserves but has yet to make his A-League debut. However Sail did sign a two-year professional contract back in March and with incumbent gloveman Glen Moss leaving (and reserve Lewis Italiano a chance to follow out the door), Sail will get his opportunity to impress in pre-season. Has already been involved in wider All Whites squads, though is yet to play for the full national team either.
Team Wellington – New Zealand
All Whites Caps: 3
The Wellington Phoenix thing didn’t quite work out for Stevens, plus he was one of that bunch of young players that got a run early in the Huddo All Whites stuff only to eventually fall out of favour – coming off the bench three times in Hudson’s first four games and not appearing again since. Scored plenty for the Nix Ressies but never did get on the scoresheet for the first team (only played five times, to be fair). However he signed for Team Wellington after his Phoenix contract ran out and the chap just dominated the last season – scoring eight times plus a couple more in OFC Champions League action, including an extra-time double in the NZ Prem semi against Waitakere… you know, the one that ended 6-6. Joel then slotted his spottie in the shootout, and TW would go on to triumph over Auckland City in the grand final.
Olympique Marseille – France
All Whites Caps: 16
How many New Zealanders have played in France’s Ligue 1? Just this one. Unfortunately since playing twice for Marseille’s first team in early 2015, a total of 17 minutes off the bench, he’s not been seen since. A loan out with RC Strasbourg didn’t go as planned with Tui struggling to command a regular spot at a lower level and he declined a loan move this season to fight for his place in Marseille but has had to contend with only a single spot on the bench, otherwise playing exclusively for the Marseille reserves. His contract is good until 2018, however with OM being taken over by American businessman Frank McCourt they’ve become more of a buying club than a development club and his path to the first XI is comprehensively blocked. We’ll see what he does next, Tui has always been a familiar face for the national team and is easily good enough to make it elsewhere in Europe. He captained this 2015 U20 World Cup team too, don’t forget.
AFC Wimbledon – England
Goalie Nik moved to England as a kid and found his way into the Brentford system. A two year scholarship became a one year development deal and Tzanev was a feature for the Brentford U18s for a spell there. It didn’t happen for him with the first team and he was released as that last deal ran out but after impressing on trial with AFC Wimbledon he’s been able to get himself a new club there. At 20 he’s still incredibly young for a keeper but the Dons’ situation means he could potentially challenge for a few starts in that squad next season. He’s already made the matchday squad for them once and he’s only been there a few weeks. Tzanev has yet to represent New Zealand at the full level although he’s one of those chaps who’s been in squads in the past and not played.
Vancouver Whitecaps – Canada/USA
All Whites Caps: 7
Just quietly it turns out in hindsight that South African-born Wynne wasn’t entirely eligible for the U20 World Cup though we only found that out at the Olympic Qualifiers later that year (for an U23 squad that featured several other crossover dudes). He’s yet another East Coast Bays old boy and Wynnebags did his thing for the Wanderers too. In the midst of the eligibility scandal, however, he skipped over the Canada where he took up a pro contract with the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS. Wynne is yet to play for the Caps but finds himself one of the first names on the teamsheet for the USL side, the Whitecaps Seconds. 21 games for them with a goal to boot. Since he’s been in Vancouver he’s also been joined by fellow kiwis Francis de Vries and Myer Bevan (the latter a member of the 2017 U20 Class). Happy to also say he is completely eligible now after getting FIFA dispensation and after 18 months out of the team he played for the All Whites on their American tour last year, remaining in the fold ever since.
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