Soccer: America calls as Ferns stature grows

The Football Ferns last played the US at the 2008 Olympics.
Photo / File
The Football Ferns last played the US at the 2008 Olympics. Photo / File

The Football Ferns are lining up two internationals against the world's top-ranked side, the US, in September as part of their Olympic preparations.

The two countries are in advanced negotiations and it's hoped it might be signed off early this week.

If the deal can get across the line, it would represent a significant coup for New Zealand Football.

Matches against the US, the two-time world and three-time Olympic champions, are akin to the All Whites playing Brazil - they have done so only once outside Fifa tournaments, in a friendly in Geneva in 2006.

NZF approached the US last year about playing a game as a World Cup warm-up - the US were beaten by Japan on penalties in last week's World Cup final in Germany - but were told their calendar was full.

The US then approached NZF in May about possibly playing two games in September.

"Usually after the US win the World Cup, they go on a victory tour and they were hoping to get some opposition lined up for that," Football Ferns coach John Herdman said. "But they also have their Olympic qualifiers coming up and wanted some good opposition. They want to play a team they think they can beat but one they think can cause them some problems."

The Football Ferns haven't troubled the US in the past. They have played them six times since the first in 1998, with a combined scoreline of 31-1. The closest match was the most recent when the US won 4-0 at the Beijing Olympics.

But New Zealand have made significant gains in recent times and emerged from the World Cup with credit after 2-1 defeats to Japan and England, as well as a 2-2 draw with Mexico. It is a reflection of their growing status in world football that the US would be interested in playing them.

The first game is pencilled in for Kansas on September 17, with another in Portland three days later. If the games go ahead, Herdman then hopes to take the team to Vancouver to play an international against Canada. Costs are a significant consideration for NZF but the matches would be ideal preparation for their own Olympic campaign.

They are already through to the final stage of qualifying as Oceania's top side and will take on the best island nation home and away in March for a place at London.

But Herdman also has his sights set on winning February's Cyprus Cup, a tournament for those below the leading nations - the US, Germany and Brazil - and they came close in 2010 when they were beaten finalists.

He's also keen on arranging games with Australia, as well as receiving an invitation to the Peace Queen Cup.

"The last time we played the US, we were a mile off," Herdman said. "The gulf was massive technically and tactically, and it was a rude awakening for the staff and players.

"But we have bridged the gap. The US are always going to outclass you but teams have learned how to play them. We have to look at what areas we can start to work on to shift us closer to the tier one teams. This will be a pretty significant couple of games for us if it all works out."

The proposed games against the US are in Fifa windows, meaning both sides can call on their best players. But the Canada game falls outside the window, meaning clubs aren't obliged to release players.

This will become an increasing problem for Herdman as more of his players turn professional.

Skipper Rebecca Smith, Ali Riley, Kirsty Yallop, Hayley Moorwood and Emma Kete were already fully or semi-professional before the World Cup but others caught the eye of scouts during this month's tournament.

Ria Percival has been offered a contract with Frankfurt, the top side in the German Bundesliga, and Amber Hearn has joined a Bundesliga club. Striker Sarah Gregorious was also offered a deal to play in Germany but is having passport problems, while Katie Hoyle will trial with Bayern Munich later in the year.

"That's great for them and will benefit the side massively but it presents new challenges," Herdman said.

"I used to be able to hold domestic camps but that won't be so easy now."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 18 Sep 2014 19:16:59 Processing Time: 486ms