Soccer: Killen's injury sees Smith staking claim at sharp end

By Terry Maddaford

Injuries may prove a godsend for Jarrod Smith.

While first-choice striker Chris Killen is out of the Oceania Nations Cup clashes with New Caledonia as he faces knee surgery, Smith, fully recovered from a hamstring injury which sent him to the sideline for almost a year, is ready to press his claims to join Shane Smeltz at the pointed end of the All Whites' attack.

Certainly, in training with the national squad in their first hit-out yesterday, Smith ran freely and showed the touches which have earned him regular football at US Major League Soccer club Toronto FC.

While coach Ricki Herbert will not name his starting XI for Saturday's away leg in Noumea until later today, Smith is in with a chance.

Like his teammates, Smith, 24, is keen to turn out in a game which could seal the All Whites' place in next year's Confederations Cup in South Africa and, beyond that, the tantalising prospect of a home and away square-off with the fifth-best Asian nation for a place in the 2010 World Cup.

It was his good form with Toronto that encouraged Herbert to draft him back into his squad.

Such has been his form with the Canadian club that a month into the season they doubled his salary and indicated he might be in line to have his initial one-year contract stretched to four. He has taken a wide-right role in the MLS but would be more than happy to join Smeltz in a two-pronged attacking role.

Asked what has been behind his step-up, Smith replied, simply: "Confidence.

"Playing and training day in and day out gives you the confidence only hard work brings. I have got myself really fit which obviously helps as well,"said Smith, who is relishing the life of a professional footballer

That professionalism was quickly apparent at yesterday's training with almost all the squad coming together from fulltime football. They looked slick and are obviously keen to get the job done - hopefully picking up the three points they need to progress in Noumea and not have the same pressure in Wednesday's return at North Harbour Stadium - and move on.

Smith, one of nine Toronto players called to international duty this week, said his coach was not happy as the MLS continues unabated. "But, it [answering Herbert's call] was never an issue. I will always be available to play for New Zealand."

Yet, not too long ago, he had to make a call whether he would follow his wicketkeeping father Ian into cricket or go with football. Having Ross Taylor as a roommate in his days at Palmerston North Boys' High - "I captained the cricket team and he was vice-captain" - did not help but in the end a "more supportive" New Zealand Football won the day.

In a surprising twist in a city where cricket barely rates a mention, it has got out that Jarrod Smith is, indeed, "son of Ian". He does not know how it came about but there is no doubt Ian will happily be "father of" if his son gets a start and helps the All Whites win through.

* Ryan Nelsen is expected to be named captain for the away leg with (suspended) Tim Brown back in the role for Wednesday's return.

LIKELY STARTING XI
Glen Moss, David Mulligan, Ryan Nelsen, Ben Sigmund, Tony Lochhead, Leo Bertos, Simon Elliott, Duncan Oughton, Allan Pearce, Jarrod Smith, Shane Smeltz.

- NZ Herald

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