The Wellington Phoenix enter their second A-League Women season with an aim to continue their development while ascending the ladder.
After much discussion on whether the A-Leagues’ resident New Zealand club would be included in the A-League Women, the APL made a late decision to introduce the Wellington Phoenix in the 2021/22 iteration of the competition.
A young Phoenix side was hastily assembled, and with a limited amount of experienced players present, it was always going to struggle in its inaugural campaign.
Despite the ever-present uphill battle it was fighting trying to bridge vast gaps in quality and experience, Gemma Lewis‘ side rarely went down without a fight.
Captain Lily Alfeld remained admirable in goals, earning a Football Ferns call-up, while Mackenzie Barry and Kate Taylor formed one of the strongest centre-back partnerships in the league to also receive recognition from New Zealand’s national team.
Grace Jale was the standout attacking player with six goals, while breakout star Alyssa Whinham got nominated for Young Women’s Footballer of the Year.
Despite a season characterised by the young side’s growing pains, the Phoenix players started believing in their abilities late in the season, recording both their wins in the last five matches of the campaign to end the year on an encouraging note.
Wellington’s late inclusion in season 2021/22, did not give the New Zealanders a clear run at recruiting. New coach Natalie Lawrence has taken steps to address that fact during pre-season a year later, recruiting two experienced Football Ferns to aid her developing side.
In A-Leagues circles, Paige Satchell was a notable pickup. The forward has experience playing finals football for both Canberra United and Sydney FC and has made her impact felt for both sides through her attacking prowess and linkup play. Her addition should ensure a more cohesive look to Wellington’s attacks.
In New Zealand circles, the most notable move was the signing of Betsy Hassett, the fourth-highest capped Football Fern with 132 caps. She may just be a game changer when it comes to the development of a squad in the infancy of its football journey.
With a CV that includes Manchester City, Werder Bremen, and Ajax, Hassett’s impact will be a huge asset for Natalie Lawrence’s side on and off the field.
After finding out defender Zoe McMeeken was born in Melbourne, an extra international spot opened up for Natalie Lawrence to take advantage of. The Phoenix seized it with both hands, signing Football Fern Emma Rolston which provides the team with some much-needed firepower.
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The Phoenix were rocked when inaugural head coach Gemma Lewis exited the club to take a well-deserved role as a women’s senior pathway manager for the Wales FA.
The exciting opportunity will see Lewis being able to study for her UEFA pro license, but it leaves a young Phoenix side in a precarious position without its mentor.
Lewis’ assistant both at the Phoenix and the Junior Football Ferns, Natalie Lawrence, has taken over the reins at Wellington which will provide the young squad with some much-needed continuity in its development.
On the field, top scorer Grace Jale left the Phoenix after a breakout season to sign for Canberra United. This leaves a question mark about whether an already goal-shy Wellington side will find enough firepower to seriously trouble its opposition.
What to expect:
As we continue seeing this young side grow before our eyes, effort and development will once again be the expectation for the Phoenix. Despite struggling going forward in season 2021/22, Wellington was rarely an easy beat and that should continue in the club’s second campaign.
Expect recently capped Football Ferns Kate Taylor and Mackenzie Barry to continue their immense partnership in the heart of defence.
Along with goalkeeper and captain Lily Alfeld and experienced signings Paige Satchell and Bettsy Hassett, the aforementioned defensive duo will aim to raise the standards of the side through their quality, leadership, and effort as the squad continues its rollercoaster between growing pains and moments of success.
Despite the notable additions of Satchell, Hassett, and Emma Rolston, the Phoenix will more than likely continue to struggle going forward, and scoring should remain an issue, albeit a solvable one this time around.
The young side will pick up points as it is an ever-improving, organised unit, but it is probably a season too early to mount a finals charge.
The aim for the Phoenix will be to ensure it avoids a second wooden spoon while claiming a couple of scalps along the way.
The difference in quality and confidence was stark between the beginning and end of season 2021/22, and another year in the A-League Women system will see this side continue growing as it aims to bridge the gap of quality to the rest of the competition.
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