Soccer: Yardstick awaits for Phoenix

By Daniel Richardson

This weekend will mark the second time Stein Huysegems has pulled on the Phoenix strip after he enjoyed a gallop during the week in a 5-0 rout over a Wellington selection XI. Photo / Getty Images.
This weekend will mark the second time Stein Huysegems has pulled on the Phoenix strip after he enjoyed a gallop during the week in a 5-0 rout over a Wellington selection XI. Photo / Getty Images.

At about 4.30pm on Sunday afternoon the Wellington Phoenix will have a good idea of where their pre-season campaign has left them ahead of this year's A-League season.

Beating up on local club sides around Wellington is all well and good but this weekend the Phoenix will meet the new boys in the A-League, the Western Sydney Wanderers, in a warm-up game in Christchurch.

Their local clashes came on the back of a pre-season trip to India where they scored 13 goals in four games and registered three wins and a loss in the sub-continent.

The Phoenix open their A-League season on October 6 when Alessandro Del Piero and Sydney FC line up at Westpac Stadium.

This weekend will mark the second time Belgian striker Stein Huysegems has pulled on the Phoenix strip after he enjoyed a gallop during the week in a 5-0 rout over a Wellington selection XI in Porirua.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert will also get another chance to run out his preferred starting XI in Christchurch - minus the injured Paul Ifill - which notably features Manny Muscat and Alex Smith in the midfield, and Benjamin Totori and youngster Louis Fenton playing as wingers.

Huysegems and fellow new recruit Jeremy Brockie will link up front again, while the backline will feature Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Tony Lochhead and, interestingly, Leo Bertos on the right side of defence.

Bertos has predominantly played as a right-sided midfielder during his 12-year professional career but is the latest player to join the right-back merry-go-round at the club.

Durante wasn't sure why filling the spot had become such an issue; with Muscat, Vince Lia, Jimmy Downey and Troy Hearfield all having had a turn there in the past few seasons.

"We went out and signed a specialist right-back in Jimmy Downey and, unfortunately, he's been injured for most of the time he's been here. So we did go in the market for one and it seems to be a tricky position to fill," Durante said.

"We've had all kinds of players play that position but hopefully now Leo's the one who can cement a spot and has a good season with it.

"He's a fantastic athlete so, in that sense, he's not going to get caught out too much. His pace will get him out of trouble a lot of the time but it's new for him. It's been OK. He's been quite good against the local clubs but this weekend is another test to see how he goes against A-League opposition. I definitely think he can do that position there, no problem."

It has been a busy week for the club as they extended fulltime contracts to Fenton, 19, and his school of excellence training partner, 17-year-old Tyler Boyd.

Both players inked three-year deals and joined Cameron Lindsay as the team's three mandatory under-21 players.

Lia and Dani Sanchez are Herbert's other injury concerns - outside of Ifill who is fighting to be fit for the season opener because of ankle and knee injuries - as they build towards the season's official start, and the club hasn't ruled out signing a replacement player to add depth to the squad.

The Phoenix will also meet YoungHeart Manawatu in Palmerston North next Saturday.

- APNZ

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