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Kiwis Abroad: Kiwi contingent grows in US

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The professional game in the United States is undergoing a small-scale Kiwi invasion with several All Whites recently making the move to America while others already based there continue to mark their mark, including the Football Ferns contingent in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

Before the developments of recent weeks, there were only four New Zealanders plying their trade in the Major League Soccer (MLS) system - Jake Gleeson (Portland Timbers), Kip Colvey (San Jose Earthquakes) and the Vancouver Whitecaps pair of Deklan Wynne and Francis de Vries. 

But that figure has now doubled in a short space of time with Myer Bevan and Stefan Marinovic adding to the Kiwi takeover at Vancouver, Michael Boxall linking up with Minnesota United and Bill Tuiloma strongly rumoured to be joining Gleeson at the Timbers. 

The New Zealand influence is nearly as strong in the women’s game with four current or former Ferns starring in the NWSL - Rosie White (Boston Breakers), Katie Bowen (FC Kansas City), Rebekah Stott (Seattle Reign) and Abby Erceg (North Carolina Courage). Away from those high-profile leagues, there are a couple of others on the books of professional outfits with Craig Henderson featuring for Indy Eleven in the North American Soccer League (NASL) and Chris James recently returning from injury for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks in the United Soccer League (USL). There are also a myriad of Kiwis in the college system, including Football Ferns Daisy Cleverley (Berkeley University), Martine Puketapu (Colorado University) and Stephanie Skilton (Syracuse University).

The most recent arrival Stateside is All Whites goalkeeper Marinovic, who is firmly established as Anthony Hudson’s first choice between the sticks and was one of his country’s stand-out performers at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia last month. Upon returning to Germany, the 25-year-old turned down on offer to stay at lower division outfit SpVgg Unterhaching and has since put pen to paper with the Whitecaps. After finalising the paperwork, he has just got into training with his new team and the presence of Wynne, de Vries and Bevan will no doubt help him settle in. Those three have all been looking to impress in the club’s second-string USL side and Marinovic may not initially assume the number one jersey for the first team with the highly-rated David Ousted currently in possession of that.

But it’s clear the Vancouver management feel they have signed a talent with huge potential. "Stefan has all the attributes you want in a goalkeeper," says coach Carl Robinson. "He’s big, strong, agile, has all the fundamentals and is a winner. He has already gained a ton of playing experience in Germany, as well as internationally with New Zealand. Stefan will increase the level of competition with our ‘keepers and we are excited to welcome him to the group."

Marinovic’s move to Canada follows hot on the heels of a similar switch for Boxall, who was also among New Zealand’s best in Russia and has been rewarded with a deal at Minnesota United, who joined the MLS as an expansion team two years ago. Along with fellow Kiwi Jeremy Brockie, the versatile defender was previously a key man in South Africa for SuperSport United and ‘The Loons’ are delighted to have secured his services. "He’s got experience on the international stage with New Zealand and he’s gotten better as his career has progressed," says coach Adrian Heath. 

"We think he is a player who is going to push everybody for a starting role on this team moving forward, we know he is chomping at the bit to get going." Boxall made his first appearance with the visit of the New York Red Bulls and played a full match but it was not a winning debut as Minnesota fell to a 3-0 defeat. The former Wellington Phoenix player has some MLS experience to draw upon after a stint with the Vancouver Whitecaps earlier in his career.

Also about to enjoy another foray into the American game could be Tuiloma with reports suggesting he is on the verge of joining Gleeson in Portland. The 22-year-old spent time in the academy of LA Galaxy as a teenager before signing for French giants Olympique de Marseille in 2013. But he has struggled to break into the first-team fold at the Ligue 1 outfit, making only two appearances off the bench and featuring prominently for the reserves side. But that lack of elite action would likely come to an end if his move to the Timbers goes through, allowing him to form an all-Kiwi defensive duo with Gleeson. 

The goalkeeper has been in fine form recently and made several outstanding saves to help Portland to a 2-1 win over Vancouver, which lifted them above the side they defeated in the Western Conference standings and snapped a six-game winless run. The most stunning of Gleeson’s stops earned him personal recognition by being nominated for the MLS Save of the Week.

In the women’s game, a pair of Football Ferns were denied the chance to complete their duel as the clash between Kansas City and North Carolina Courage was called off due to bad weather. Bowen and Erceg both started for their respective sides and there was still no score when the teams left the field shortly before half-time as lightning interrupted proceedings. With the conditions failing to improve, the decision to postpone the game was made in the interests of fan and player safety but the rescheduled date is yet to be determined. Also not able to get in a full match was Stott, who was introduced as a 69th-minute substitute as the Seattle Reign edged out Sky Blue FC 5-4 in a thrilling encounter. 

White was included from the start for the Boston Breakers in a 1-0 loss to the Houston Dash but likewise couldn’t complete the full 90 minutes after being replaced just before the hour. She did nearly get on the scoresheet early on though, meeting a cross to send a looping header towards goal that was tipped over the bar.

It’s not just in the States that Kiwis are making an impact with a range of New Zealand-related activity also taking place in Europe, particularly the United Kingdom. English clubs are now well into the swing of pre-season and Chris Wood appears to have picked up where he left off last term after finding the net for Leeds United in a 4-2 defeat to Spanish La Liga outfit SD Eibar. 

In a fixture that completed Leeds’ tour of Austria, Wood struck in the 63rd minute after initially seeing a header saved but following up to turn the ball home off the goalkeeper from a tight angle. The striker, who finished as the Championship’s top scorer in the previous campaign, almost opened his account more than once in the first half, going close with a free kick from 25 yards before an even more audacious attempt from a bicycle kick. Fellow front man Greg Draper was meanwhile on fire in Wales, hitting a hat-trick for The New Saints as they swept aside Telford United 14-1 in the semi-finals of the Shropshire Senior Cup.

At the other end of the pitch, Football Ferns goalkeeper Erin Nayler has been officially welcomed to Bordeaux after the club confirmed her signing yesterday while Max Crocombe continues to make a good impression in his early days at Salford City. The former Oxford United and Carlisle United custodian took on Football League opposition as League One side Blackpool dropped into Salford, who feature in the sixth tier of the English pyramid.

Crocombe played the full match and was kept busy in an action-packed encounter, making several good saves as Salford competed well against their more highly-ranked opposition before eventually losing 4-3. Elsewhere in Britain, several Kiwis are continuing to play for their futures as Rory Fallon, Andrew Blake and Moses Dyer all look to secure contracts. Fallon is on trial at fifth-tier Torquay United and took full part in a 1-0 win over Weymouth, even playing a key role in the goal by flicking on a ball forward for Jon-Paul Pittman to finish. 

Also getting 90 minutes under his belt in a trial period was Blake, who did so for Scottish Premiership side Hibernian in a scoreless stalemate against Selkirk in the Bobby Johnstone Memorial Cup. The attention of Dyer, a team mate of Blake’s in the New Zealand-hosted 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, has now turned to England after trying his luck in Norway and Denmark. The midfielder is aiming to show what he can do at League Two club Crewe Alexandra and impressed as part of a largely U-23 side in a 1-1 draw against non-league Alsager Town before featuring on the bench for a more senior line-up in another pre-season friendly against Bury.

The trialists do not have much longer to earn a deal with the Scottish Premiership and English lower leagues all kicking off in early August. Harbouring no such concerns is Ryan Thomas, whose immediate future is secure after signing a contract extension with Dutch top-flight side PEC Zwolle. The 22-year-old was arguably the All Whites’ best performer at the Confederations Cup and will stay with Zwolle until 2019 but is keeping an open mind. "I love playing for PEC - I love the club, the people and the players," he says. 

"But with football you never know. If the right amount of money comes in and it is the right opportunity for PEC, the other club and also for me then you can’t turn that down. But I can still grow here. I’ve still got a lot to learn, a lot to prove and this season hopefully I will do that." His importance to the Zwolle cause has been underlined in pre-season with Thomas standing out and being made vice-captain, even taking the armband himself in a recent match.

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