Ferns on fire in the States

Much of the impact of New Zealand’s overseas-based players has been focused on the United States in recent days while others in Europe are making their mark at new clubs or looking to pick up a professional deal.

Football Ferns midfielder Katie Bowen led the way for the Kiwi contingent in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) by getting on the scoresheet as FC Kansas City lost in heart-breaking fashion to Sky Blue FC. Bowen has only just returned to the Kansas fold after an injury but didn’t take long to make an impact on her return, receiving a clever back heel from team mate Christina Gibbons and smashing an unstoppable drive into the far corner from just outside the area. It was a spectacular way to score her first goal in the competition but was ultimately in vain as a Sam Kerr hat-trick inspired the Blues to a 3-2 victory, the winning goal arriving in the 90th minute. Kansas had been forced to play the entirety of the second half with only ten players after the controversial dismissal of Shea Groom. Bowen will come up against a familiar face in her side’s next home match with the Abby Erceg-led North Carolina Courage set to pay a visit to Kansas. It will be the second such meeting in quick succession for former Football Ferns captain Erceg, who has just skippered the Courage to a 2-0 win over Seattle Reign. Her international team mate Rebekah Stott lined up at right back again for the Reign and played the full 90 minutes but couldn’t prevent the Courage from remaining top of the league.

Rosie White’s Boston Breakers are not faring as well and are just one point off last place. But they have been on a good little run lately, string together three games without defeat as they look to climb the table. The latest of those results was a scoreless stalemate against the Chicago Red Stars and White had a key role to play in keeping a clean sheet. Normally more adept at creating or scoring goals, White made a vital contribution at the other end, showing great awareness and athleticism to get back on the goal line and head a lofted effort over the bar with the Boston goalkeeper stranded. The intervention received due recognition as a nominee in the official NWSL Save of the Week while Bowen’s strike was also a contender for Goal of the Week. Despite the lack of goals, it was an action-packed game for White, who nearly picked out Morgan Andrews to open the scoring with a free kick mid-way through the first half and went close herself with a shot that fizzed over the crossbar in the second spell. The only blot on her copybook was a yellow card late on. White will soon come up against two of her fellow Football Ferns as Boston look to keep their undefeated run going with Stott’s Seattle and Bowen’s Kansas the next opponents.

In the men’s game, no New Zealanders have been in Major League Soccer (MLS) action with the competition taking a break for the Gold Cup, a biennial international tournament for CONCACAF nations currently being hosted by the United States. There was some MLS news nonetheless though with All Whites defender Michael Boxall believed to be on the brink of a move to Minnesota United. The 28-year-old recently became a free agent after parting ways with South African outfit SuperSport United and reports out of North America have suggested he is set to put pen to paper on a deal with Minnesota, who are coached by former Everton star Adrian Heath. Boxall has previous experience in the MLS after a stint with the Vancouver Whitecaps and has also played for Auckland City and the Wellington Phoenix in a globe-trotting career. He will become the fifth Kiwi to currently be on the books of an MLS club, joining Jake Gleeson (Portland Timbers) and Kip Colvey (San Jose Earthquakes), along with the Vancouver Whitecaps trio of Deklan Wynne, Myer Bevan and Francis De Vries.

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With the United Soccer League (USL) not stopping for the Gold Cup, Wynne and De Vries both got 90 minutes under their belts for Whitecaps 2 in a 2-2 draw against the Colorado Springs Switchbacks while Bevan was an unused substitute. Wynne was responsible for teeing up one of the goals as his cross from the left was met by Thomas Sanner, who powered home a header off the post to make it 2-0 just before the break. Vancouver were not able to hold off a second-half fightback though and De Vries was one of four players booked as their frustration at letting Colorado off the hook began to show. Having more to celebrate was Colvey, whose re-immersion into the first-team fold at the San Jose has continued with a place on the bench in the US Open Cup quarter-finals against fierce rivals LA Galaxy. The All Whites fullback was not called into action but witnessed an exciting encounter from the sidelines as the Earthquakes triumphed 3-2 to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 2004.

Also having to make do with a supporting role was Sam Brotherton, who was among the substitutes as the Sunderland U-23 side lost its opening pre-season friendly to local club Sunderland RCA, who play in Division One of the semi-professional Northern League. The Black Cats fielded a youthful team on their trip to RCA with five first-year professionals involved, including Brotherton’s fellow Kiwi Michael Woud. The goalkeeper starred for New Zealand at the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic and was rewarded for his efforts with a start for the U-23s, despite still being only 18. He wasn’t the only Kiwi custodian to take the next step in his career with Max Crocombe debuting for new club Salford City, which is half owned by former Manchester United stars Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt. Crocombe played the first half of a friendly against Atherton Laburnum Rovers and will have been satisfied with his efforts after keeping a clean sheet. The score was 3-0 at half-time and Salford then made wholesale changes for the second period before eventually winning 8-0. Also making his first appearance for a new club was two-cap All White Henry Cameron, who took full part as Irish outfit Limerick recovered from two goals down to beat English League One side Charlton Athletic 3-2 in other pre-season friendly action. Cameron impressed on debut, setting up several Limerick team mates for spurned chances in the first half.

Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, former New Zealand U-20 international and Wellington Phoenix youngster Andrew Blake teamed up with a famous name while on trial at Scottish Premiership outfit Hibernian. Blake started at right-back in a 2-0 win over Berwick Rangers and in the midfield berth in front of him was fellow trialist Jermaine Pennant. The 34-year-old was once considered one of the brightest prospects in the English game and counts Arsenal, Liverpool and Real Zaragoza among his former clubs. Blake formed a duo down the right with Pennant for Hibernian for 76 minutes before the ex-England U-21 international was replaced while Blake made way five minutes later. Also on the trial hunt elsewhere are Moses Dyer and Liam Graham, who both missed out on spots in the All Whites squad for the FIFA Confederations Cup but are trying to bounce back by earning professional club deals. That quest has unfortunately proved unsuccessful so far though with Dyer not able to earn a contract on his travels in Norway and Denmark while Graham’s bid to impress at former club Chesterfield has likewise not resulted in an offer. Also looking to pick up a contract is UK-based Keaton August, who lived in New Zealand for ten years as a child before moving to Australia and is currently playing for English non-league team Windsor FC. He is also part of the Cox Green Sports Academy, who have a partnership with Windsor, and has travelled back down under this month to try to earn a spot in the New Zealand squad for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which takes place in India in October. Prior to boarding the plane, August spent time on trial at English League Two club Barnet. The outcome of that is yet to be revealed but already having his immediate professional future secured is hugely-promising young All White Dane Ingham, who recently signed a contract extension at A-League outfit Brisbane Roar.

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With less to celebrate was former All White Greg Draper, who was on the bench as Welsh Premier League champions The New Saints suffered a blow in their bid to join the big boys with a 2-0 loss to Croatian side HNK Rijeka in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League. Draper and co will look to overturn the two-goal deficit in the home leg next week in Wales. There was more luck elsewhere for a fellow Kiwi striker in an international club competition with Jeremy Brockie continuing his outstanding form to put SuperSport United into the CAF Confederation Cup quarter-finals. The 49-cap All White struck a double as the South Africans accounted for Gabon’s CF Mounana 4-1 in a competition that acts as Africa’s equivalent of the Europa League. Brockie has now scored 20 goals this term for SuperSport and nine of those have come in the Confederation Cup, making him the leading scorer. He must wait to add to his tally though as the quarter-finals are not scheduled to take place until September. In further striker news, Shane Smeltz did not manage to get on the scoresheet in Indonesia but had some success to toast nonetheless as Borneo edged out local rivals Mitra Kukar in a match known as the Derby Mahakam. The win lifted Borneo to tenth place on the Liga 1 ladder while Mitra are just a point ahead in eighth.

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