The United States-based Football Ferns have finally got their seasons underway while many New Zealanders in other parts of the world are continuing to catch the eye for their respective clubs.
Much of the Kiwi interest in the States fell on the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) opening-round fixture between FC Kansas City and the Boston Breakers, who each fielded a Football Fern in their line-up. Katie Bowen and Rosie White were both named to start but it was only the former that was able to celebrate as her Kansas City side claimed a 2-0 victory. White did her best to get Boston on the scoresheet with a shot from just inside the box on 28 minutes but goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart pulled off a diving save. The Ferns striker did eventually get her name in the referee’s notebook but in more unwanted circumstances after being booked on the hour mark.
Elsewhere in the NWSL, Ferns defender Rebekah Stott had to be content with a place on the bench as the Seattle Reign fought out a 1-1 draw at home to Sky Blue FC, for whom former Auckland Football and Northern Football development officer Paul Greig is on the coaching staff. Stott did earn a few minutes of game time after making a late cameo, replacing Reign goalscorer and hugely-experienced United States international Megan Rapinoe.
Outside of the big league in America, young Football Ferns striker Martine Puketapu was in action for Colorado University in a 2-1 exhibition game loss to Wyoming. One of three newcomers to the Colorado squad, Puketapu has not taken long to make an impact, opening the scoring against Wyoming and impressing coach Danny Sanchez with her all-round play throughout the spring season. “Up top, Marty scoring a couple of goals has been great but just her work off the ball, her willingness to defend as well, has been very good,” he says.
In the men’s game, goalkeeper Jake Gleeson continues to lead the way as the only regular Kiwi starter at Major League Soccer (MLS) level but suffered disappointed as the Portland Timbers fell to a 1-0 loss at home to Sporting Kansas City. The margin of defeat could have been bigger in front of another 20,000-plus crowd at Providence Park but Gleeson did well to keep out a Gerso Fernandes’ shot with his boot at close range in the 60th minute. San Jose Earthquakes fullback Kip Colvey is continuing to line up in the United Soccer League (USL) for affiliate club Reno 1868 but joined Gleeson in being on the losing side with a 4-0 setback at San Antonio. Colvey could come up against a fellow All White this weekend as Reno’s next game is against the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, who include 19-cap midfielder Chris James in their ranks. James was a goalscorer for the Switchbacks on Wednesday after pouncing on a rebound to slot home from close range in a 3-1 loss to Rio Grande Valley.
Deklan Wynne will meanwhile take on the side that accounted for Colvey’s Reno when Western Conference-topping San Antonio come to the Vancouver Whitecaps 2. Wynne and his team mates will carry plenty of confidence into their meeting with the league leaders after earning their second consecutive victory with a 1-0 triumph over Portland Timbers 2. Wynne and fellow New Zealander Francis De Vries both started the match and did well to carve out a win against an experienced Timbers side that featured eight members of the club’s MLS roster. Just a few days earlier, Wynne had been named in the USL Team of the Week for his goalscoring exploits in a 3-0 win over the Seattle Sounders in round three.
Across the Atlantic, Chris Wood’s hopes of a return to the revered English Premier League suffered a blow as promotion-chasing Leeds United dropped out of the Championship play-off places with a damaging 1-0 defeat at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday. It was an abrupt comedown for the All Whites striker, who had been on top of the world just a few days earlier when his perfectly-executed volley stunned a capacity crowd of over 52,000 as Leeds pinched a last-gasp 1-1 draw at second-placed Newcastle United. Another All White’s team, Ipswich Town, also interrupted Newcastle’s march to the Premiership by inflicting a 3-1 defeat on Monday but Tommy Smith’s involvement was limited to a few minutes as a late substitute. He performed the same role earlier on the weekend in a 2-1 win over Burton Albion, whose academy is managed by former Football Ferns assistant coach Danny Robinson. Meanwhile, there has been some good news for both All Whites and West Ham United fans with Winston Reid easing himself back into training after a groin injury and reports suggesting he could soon make a return for the Hammers.
Outside of the major leagues, Sam Brotherton has another clash against one of the most famous clubs in English football to look forward to with the Sunderland U-23s set to host their counterparts from Arsenal in their final Premier League 2 home game of the season this weekend. It will be the young Black Cats’ second meeting with a London-based giant in quick succession and Brotherton will hope to play a bigger part this time after being an unused substitute in the 3-0 loss to Chelsea last week.
In the female game in England, the top flight of the FA Women’s Super League Spring Series is set to get underway this weekend and a Football Fern will have the honour of being involved in the opening game when Anna Green lines up for Reading against Bristol City on Saturday. Green and co will relish the chance to finally take the field in earnest after weeks of pre-season preparations but another Kiwi has already been in plenty of action in the second tier. Former youth international Olivia Chance is a member of the Everton squad and came on in the 76th minute to help the Toffees to a 3-0 win over Aston Villa – their third win in the four matches they have played so far.
Over in mainland Europe, goalkeeper Tamati Williams had only one point to show for his Easter weekend exploits with RKC Waalwijk in the Dutch second-tier Jupiler League after a 2-1 defeat to VVV-Venlo was followed by a 1-1 draw with Almere City. The latter match received attention around the world due to the odd circumstances of Waalwijk’s equaliser, Almere City goalkeeper Chiel Kramer inexplicably dallying on the ball to allow Pieter Langedijk to dispossess him and roll into an empty net. Also in Holland, Ryan Thomas started on the right of midfield for PEC Zwolle and mustered one strike on target but couldn’t prevent a 5-1 defeat to relegation rivals Groningen in the Eredivisie.
The news likewise wasn’t good for the Zwolle women’s team and a Football Fern played a part in their demise as Betsy Hassett’s Ajax ran out 3-1 winners in the semi-finals of the KNVB Cup, Dutch female football’s premier knockout competition. Hassett came on as a half-time substitute in the victory, which keeps Ajax on course for a league-and-cup double. Nearby in Sweden, newly-appointed Football Ferns captain Ali Riley played the full 90 minutes as FC Rosengard began the defence of their Damallsvenskan crown in style with a 7-2 triumph over Kvarnsvedens. The match was most notable for being a farewell to five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta, who has recently left Rosengard to join American outfit Orlando Pride. Riley is a long-time team-mate of Marta, having lined up on the left-hand side with the Brazilian superstar in the United States at FC Gold Pride and the Western New York Flash before both joined forces again in Sweden. Also getting underway in the opening round of a European league was fellow Fern Kirsty Yallop, who debuted for Klepp in the Norwegian Toppserien but had that milestone soured by a 6-1 loss.
In the Southern Hemisphere, Jeremy Brockie is going the right way about an All Whites recall after notching a hat-trick as South African outfit SuperSport United cruised into the group stages of the CAF Confederation Cup with a 5-0 victory over Liberia’s Barrack Young Controllers to progress 6-1 on aggregate. Brockie netted his first just after the half hour and helped himself to two more in the second spell – including one from the penalty spot – to go home with the match ball. Michael Boxall was an unused substitute as coach Stuart Baxter continued to rotate his side for the competition but was fully involved in a 5-0 league loss to Mamelodi Sundowns a few days earlier while Brockie was subbed off in the 83rd minute.
Closer to home, the Wellington Phoenix have wrapped up their Hyundai A-League campaign in disappointing fashion by throwing away a 3-1 lead to lose 4-3 to the Brisbane Roar. Tom Doyle, Michael McGlinchey and Kosta Barbarouses all started while Glen Moss, Hamish Watson, Logan Rogerson and Sarpreet Singh were named on the bench. McGlinchey struck just before half-time to give the ‘Nix a two-goal cushion but the wheels came off in the second period as Brisbane pulled off a remarkable comeback. Another All White also featured in the match as Dane Ingham rose from the bench late on for the victors. At least one member of the Phoenix Kiwi contingent did manage to finish the season on a high note when Barbarouses was later named the club’s player of the year.
Elsewhere in the A-League, Dane’s brother Jai Ingham played a key role in a piece of history by supplying the pass that allowed Besart Berisha to become the first player to score 100 goals in the competition as Melbourne Victory edged past the Central Coast Mariners 1-0. Marco Rojas had earlier given Berisha the chance to achieve his personal milestone but the Albanian was unable to get on the end of the All White’s cross from the right. Rojas and Ingham now have the finals series to look forward to but Storm Roux is not in the same boat after his Mariners finished the season in eighth place.