All Whites make mark as Ferns prepare for season

There was positive news for most of the overseas-based All Whites over the past week while many of the Football Ferns’ foreign contingent are putting the finishing touches to their preparations ahead of upcoming campaigns with their respective clubs.

In what is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence, Chris Wood did not get on the scoresheet for Leeds United but had plenty to celebrate nonetheless as the Whites cemented their position in the Championship play-off spots with a 3-0 home win over Preston North End. In front of a bumper Elland Road crowd of over 30,000, Wood was unlucky not to add to his 24 goals after having a strike disallowed and hitting the cross bar with a header. Wood also missed out on a personal accolade as Brighton’s Anthony Knockaert pipped him to the Championship Player of the Season at the EFL Awards ceremony but the All Whites striker was able to console himself with a well-deserved place in the EFL Team of the Season, following on from his selection in the Championship Team of the Season last month and being named Championship Player of the Month for March.

Fellow All White Tommy Smith was likewise able to toast himself after completing his comeback from injury with a return to the Ipswich Town starting line-up. The centre back had received some valuable playing time for his country in the recent FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Fiji and got another 45 minutes under his belt before being replaced at half-time as Town were beaten 3-1 by Fulham. Earlier in mid-week, Smith had come off the bench just before the break in a 3-0 win over Wigan to move up to 40th place on Ipswich’s all-time appearance list.

Winston Reid is yet to follow Smith in returning to fitness but would have been delighted to see West Ham United earn a crucial 1-0 win over Swansea City to strengthen their chances of staying in the Premier League. Enjoying a brush with the big time was Sam Brotherton, who watched from the substitutes bench at the famous Stamford Bridge as his Sunderland U-23 team was beaten 3-0 by a classy Chelsea outfit. The young defender also has a European excursion to look forward to with Sunderland set to take on Portuguese club FC Porto in the final of the Premier League International Cup, the details of which are yet to be confirmed.

Already making a mark in Europe is Ryan Thomas, who hit a double for the All Whites in the second match against Fiji for his first international goals and has carried that good form into his club football with PEC Zwolle, for whom he played the full 90 minutes in a 2-2 draw against Dutch Eredivisie leaders Feyenoord. The 22-year-old from Te Puke also played a key role just a few days earlier as Zwolle fell to a mid-week defeat at Roda JC, drawing the goalkeeper before unselfishly setting up Youness Mokhtar for his side’s only goal in the 2-1 loss.

Also in fine form in the Netherlands is goalkeeper Tamati Williams, who could not prevent RKC Waalwijk being outclassed 4-0 by De Graafschap in the second-tier Jupiler League but put on an outstanding display to avoid an even heavier defeat. Despite being a regular feature of Anthony Hudson’s All Whites squads in recent times, Williams has not appeared for his country since debuting against South Africa in 2014 but showed he has lost none of his sharpness by pulling off a string of fine saves to spare Waalwijk’s blushes.

Another Holland-based New Zealander will soon be coming up against Thomas’ club as Football Ferns midfielder Betsy Hassett prepares to face PEC Zwolle in the semi-finals of the female KNVB Cup, the Dutch equivalent of the English FA Cup, with her Ajax team mates this weekend. Ajax secured their berth in the last four after going on the goal rampage to beat ADO Den Haag 6-2 in the quarter-finals. Most of Hassett’s fellow Europe-based Football Ferns are still in pre-season with Reading defender Anna Green getting ready for the FA Women’s Super League Spring Series in England while Hannah Wilkinson and Ali Riley  – who was recently named as the new national team captain – are putting the finishing touches to their preparations ahead of the Swedish league kick off, as is Kirsty Yallop in Norway.

It’s a busy time in the United States for both the America-based All Whites and Football Ferns with the women beginning their campaigns in a few days and their male counterparts looking to impress in the early stages of their season. All Whites fullback Deklan Wynne did just that for Whitecaps FC 2 with the first goal of his professional career in a 3-0 win over Seattle Sounders 2. In the Whitecaps’ United Soccer League (USL) home opener, Wynne latched onto a loose ball inside the box and sweetly-struck a low shot into the far corner to open the scoring. Fellow fullback Kip Colvey was again allowed to line up for Reno 1868 by parent club San Jose Earthquakes and took full part in an action-packed 5-3 loss to the Real Monarchs in the USL.

In Major League Soccer (MLS), goalkeeper Jake Gleeson continued his impressive form as the Portland Timbers came from behind to record a 3-1 success over Philadelphia Union. Gleeson was called upon early as Philadelphia midfielder Fabinho broke through on the left and dribbled towards goal before the big Kiwi came off his line to ably stop the dangerous attack. He was needed again soon after in getting down low to his left to keep out a free kick from Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin.

In the female game, Rosie White, Katie Bowen and Rebekah Stott are all gearing up for the start of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) – the elite women’s football competition in the United States – this weekend. White has enjoyed a promising pre-season campaign with the Boston Breakers – jointly leading the side’s offensive charts with four goals and one assist – and was officially confirmed as part of the squad today as the Breakers announced their season-opening roster.

White will come up against fellow Football Fern Bowen on Sunday as the pair’s respective seasons kick off with a clash between Boston and FC Kansas City, who have likewise just confirmed their squad and included Bowen. The versatile 22-year-old has been listed as a defender by Kansas but has also spent much of her career in midfield and that versatility is likely to come in handy for coach Vlatko Andonovski. Bowen will line up alongside some world-class players with star USA forwards Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux – who have over 200 international caps and 65 goals between them – both also named in the squad after missing the previous season through pregnancy.

Centre back Stott is also in good company at the Seattle Reign after being named in a 21-strong line-up with the likes of 2016 NWSL Defender of the Year Lauren Barnes and USA centurion Megan Rapinoe, widely regarded as one of the best players in the world. There are several faces familiar to Stott in the group with Barnes, Jessica Fishlock and Beverly Yanez all having joined the Papamoa-born Fern at Melbourne City during the NWSL off-season. Stott and co will open their campaign at home on Saturday with a clash against Sky Blue FC.

The Kiwi pair in South Africa, Michael Boxall and Jeremy Brockie, also have plenty to look forward to after an exciting week with SuperSport United. The duo were both part of the squad that travelled to Liberia to take on Barrack Young Controllers in the first leg of the CAF Confederation Cup play-off on Sunday with Boxall playing the whole match and Brockie coming on as a 60th-minute substitute in the 1-1 draw. The return leg will be hosted by SuperSport this Sunday while an eye-catching Nedbank Cup quarter-final against Kaizer Chiefs is also coming up. The Nedbank Cup is South Africa’s premier knockout tournament and SuperSport are the current holders while Kaizer Chiefs are the most successful club with 13 titles.

Closer to home, the All Whites’ contingent at the Wellington Phoenix suffered disappointment as their side dropped out of the Hyundai A-League finals running after a 1-1 draw against Sydney. Andrew Durante, Tom Doyle and Kosta Barbarouses all started while Glen Moss, Michael McGlinchey, Hamish Watson and Shane Smeltz were named on the bench. McGlinchey came on just after the hour and made an impact in stoppage time when Doyle headed a ball into the penalty area and the midfielder flicked it in with his forehead to salvage a point. Durante was later named in the A-League Team of the Week while Smeltz – the competition’s all-time second top goalscorer – flew out to join Indonesian club Pusamania Borneo as a marquee player shortly after the match.

Elsewhere in the A-League, Marco Rojas and Jai Ingham both featured in a determined showing as 10-man Melbourne Victory held the Western Sydney Wanderers to a scoreless stalemate. Rojas almost had an assist in the first half when Besart Berisha found the net from his pass but the goal was disallowed for offside and the task was made more difficult for Victory when Daniel Georgievski received a second yellow card early in the second spell. Ingham came off the bench in the 70th minute while Rojas was replaced soon after. The point allowed Melbourne to solidify second spot on the table and means at least two Kiwis are still in the hunt for the A-League title.

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