Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Premiership's top prospects

Ian Hogg. Photo / Getty Images.
Ian Hogg. Photo / Getty Images.

As far as pathways go, the step up and out of the ASB Premiership to another level seems one of the most difficult across the New Zealand sporting sphere.

To go from training two to three times a week in a 14-game season to a fully professional set-up in the A-League or beyond is a big ask.

Over the years, a few have managed it. Tim Payne, Marco Rojas, Kosta Barbarouses and Chris Wood are all recent examples, while Ben Sigmund is another commonly cited instance.

Others such as Dan Keats, Michael Boxall and Andy Boyens have spent time in the NZFC between American sojourns, while Jeremy Brockie resurrected his career with Hawke's Bay and Team Wellington, as did Shane Smeltz at Napier City Rovers.

But currently the path to the Phoenix, the A-League or another competition in Asia or Europe seems as rocky as ever. Indeed, All Whites and Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert famously complained in recent times that the ASB Premiership was not doing enough to develop Kiwi players.

But this season has been one of the most keenly contested yet, with Canterbury breaking the Auckland duopoly on the top two league spots and Team Wellington appearing in the grand final for just the second time in their history.

Here are some of the players who may be in line for graduation to another level (or All Whites honours) over the next few years:

Ian Hogg (Auckland City)
Though he has been around for an age and has played almost 100 matches for City, he is still young enough to find a way to the next level and this tenacious defender is probably due a chance. Generally the higher the level, the better he plays, as seen with his performances at various Fifa Club World Cups and the 2008 Olympics.

Luke Rowe (Team Wellington)
Impressive in last week's final, Rowe is comfortable in possession and strong on the ball. After returning from a spell in England (where he was good enough to play for Birmingham reserves), he struggled at first with the expectation but has settled since. A stalwart of the under-20s campaign last year in Colombia, the Olympics loom as his next big chance to be noticed.

Adam Thomas (Waikato)
Described by one coach as having technical skills that are the "best in the country" for his age. A versatile player who can play across the back line or in midfield. Good enough to be captain of Waikato at the age of 19, he has represented his country at under-17, under-20 and under-23 level.

Ryan De Vries (Waitakere)
His residency application had not come through in time for the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia but he will surely feature in a New Zealand shirt sooner rather than later. "He is blessed with the greatest gift of all," said one coach, "pure and genuine pace." He will need to be tested against better defences but looks one for the future.

Aaron Clapham (Canterbury)
Time is not on his side but he remains a player who looks far too good for the ASB Premiership. After a disappointing 2010-11 season, he bounced back to his best in this campaign and was the only player to make the team of the month every month. From an attacking midfield role, he was one of the league's leading scorers and "could be another Ben Sigmund", according to one coach - but probably needs to leave Christchurch.

Tim Myers (Waitakere United)
The 21-year-old defender reads the game well, makes few mistakes and can play anywhere in the back four. A no-nonsense player, he can go unnoticed but that is a tribute to his effectiveness and efficiency.

Johnny Raj (Team Wellington)
His time at college in the United States has served to sharpen his game, while the former Auckland City defender is also noticeably stronger. His Mt Albert Grammar school background has ensured good technical ability and he is comfortable playing out from the back.

Louis Fenton (Team Wellington)
After starting the year in the youth league, he was soon a fixture in Matt Calcott's squad and scored eight goals in 12 matches. He has signed to play in the Queensland State League.

Andrew Barton (Canterbury)
An attack-minded midfielder always able to find space and time on the field. Barton, who is strong on the ball, made the wider squad for the New Zealand under-20s side and his finishing remains his only Achilles heel.

Others on the horizon: Ryan Thomas and Tyler Bond (Waikato), Andrew Milne (Auckland City), Nick Branch (Team Wellington), Jason Hicks (Waikato), Ken Yamamoto (Canterbury).

- Herald on Sunday

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