Soccer: Herbert chases key signatures

By Michael Brown

Ricki Herbert sat high up in the bleachers in Adelaide specifically to watch two players. Afterwards he was on the phone trying to convince three overseas players they should join him in Wellington.

Now that Herbert has settled his immediate future and will remain in New Zealand, the coach who wears two hats is well and truly tuning into getting the Wellington Phoenix into shape before next month's kickoff to the new A-League season.

On Friday night they were beaten by Adelaide United 2-0 in a pre-season friendly but the result was largely immaterial. Only first halves are relevant in pre-season games and Wellington held the upper hand in the opening 45 minutes against their A-League rivals.

As one Adelaidian said, Wellington "peppered" Adelaide's goal but just couldn't score. New signing Dylan Macallister continued to impress after his 30-yard goal last weekend in the 2-1 win over Brisbane. He came closest but his shot cannoned off the bar. Mark Paston continued his excellent form in goal.

Both teams played weakened sides. Adelaide's new coach Rini Coolen still hadn't arrived from the Netherlands and they were without five regulars, while the Phoenix travelled without Tony Lochhead, Leo Bertos and Paul Ifill. Lochhead and Bertos are still recovering from their World Cup exertions while Ifill had a virus.

It gave Herbert a chance to run his eye over two triallists. Sydney United striker Mirjan Pavlovic started up front and troubled the Adelaide defence before being replaced by Onehunga youngster Sean Lovemore on the hour.

"Pavlovic was lively and put himself about," Herbert said. "He's more advanced than some of the other younger players and he would be an under-21 player, so that's in his favour."

Each club must have a minimum of 20 and maximum of 23 players in their squad and three must be under-21 players.

Herbert said Lovemore would be an ideal recruit should the Phoenix succeed in organising regular midweek games against NZFC opposition for a second team.

"If they play every second week, then it's in the best interests of 10-12 young players to be in Wellington and train every day with the club," Herbert said. "Being in a professional environment would help them enormously."

Brazilian triallist Magno Vieira didn't travel to Adelaide because of visa issues but the striker will be given one more game, Friday night's match against Boca Juniors, to push for a contract. He might struggle if Herbert succeeds in signing the three players he's after.

He's chasing a South American and an Asian - one is a former international - and a current All White.

"They are three key signings and they would be considered starting players if we got them all," Herbert said. "They would be extremely good acquisitions and it gives an indication of where this club is trying to go this year. We are trying to push and raise the bar.

"I would like to think that we will get all three across the line. Two are quite positive and if we don't get the third, then we will find another one." The Phoenix need to have 20 players on their books by the end of the month and kick off their A-League campaign on August 13.

- Herald on Sunday

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