One notable thing about Alex Smith's performance against Sydney FC last weekend was that the Wellington Phoenix midfielder had a different number on his back.
The English-born American, who joined the club last year as an injury replacement player but penned a new one-year deal in May, sported 24 last summer. This year he will wear No 6, which is associated in Wellington with Tim Brown who wore that number during his 112-game Phoenix career that came to an end after last season.
Smith said he wanted to emulate the feats of Brown and coach Ricki Herbert prompted the switch in digits.
"Last year I was an injury replacement so I couldn't actually have a number under 23 or something like that," Smith explained. "So I got in to pre-season this year and Ricki pulled me aside and said, 'Look, we are going to give you the No 6, just as a midfield box-to-box player that Brownie was and hopefully you can try fill those shoes as much as you can'.
"It was a big honour, Brownie was at the club for five years and scored heaps of goals and was just a legend. So it was a big honour to get his number and hopefully I can do the jersey justice and knock in a few goals this year."
While some footballers are notoriously specific about what number they have on their back, it doesn't worry Smith too much. Fan-favourite Paul Ifill wears the number the American wore as a youngster.
"I grew up wearing No 8 but Iffie's got that so I won't be getting that any time soon," Smith said. "I'm more concerned with the way I play than the number on my back."
Smith's next opportunity to show his form comes this afternoon when a depleted Phoenix take on the Melbourne Heart in Victoria. The Phoenix have been ravaged by international commitments because Football Federation Australia insisted a round of the A-League be completed this weekend, despite a Fifa window where countries have first rights to players.
Six All Whites and Solomon Islands international Benjamin Totori have been picked to play in World Cup qualifiers, while Herbert is also on duty with the NZ side, causing the team to call on their academy squad.
Smith will again partner Manny Muscat in the midfield after the pair looked sharp in the 2-0 opening round win against Sydney. "Manny and I have always had a pretty good understanding with each other and we communicate really well."
They may also be joined by rookie Tom Biss from the academy squad who will need to be at his best against a handy Melbourne side who beat their cross-town rivals the Victory 2-1 last week.
- APNZBy Daniel Richardson @danrichardson21 Email Daniel