Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Inexperience feature of NZ squad

Storm Roux says he is excited to be part of the squad for such an important playoff. Photo / Getty Images
Storm Roux says he is excited to be part of the squad for such an important playoff. Photo / Getty Images

The All Whites squad to face the might of Mexico next week includes two rookies barely out of their teens, a couple of players without a club and four others with a combined total of just seven caps between them.

There are also a clutch of players who have been absent from the international scene for extended periods before recent recalls while a key midfielder (Tim Payne) has been ruled out through injury.

On the surface it could be a concern - but is hardly an unfamiliar situation for New Zealand soccer - who have become used to dealing with selection extremes over the years.

Coach Ricki Herbert has tried a whole range of personnel in the two most recent tours (to Saudi Arabia and the USA/Trinidad and Tobago) with some being selected yesterday off short auditions.

"It has been a long, hard process and we have worked with a lot of players over the last few months," says Herbert. "Potentially, it's an extremely strong side."

Uncapped fullback Storm Roux, 20, has been selected on the back of four starts for the A League champion Central Coast Mariners.

Roux said it was a great honour and he was excited to be part of the squad for such an important playoff. "Being part of the squad is one thing but I think that if you're in the squad you shouldn't be there to make up the numbers. I want to be pushing hard for game time."

Herbert said he had been on the radar for a while. "Credit to him, he has come back after a difficult [under-20] World Cup and solidified himself into a top A League club. He plays in an area of the pitch that we have been devoid of for a long time and can also play as a wide player in a back five."

Eighteen-year-old Bill Tuiloma (Olympique Marseille) is the other rookie, after he debuted in the 0-0 draw with Trinidad and Tobago last month. It is hard to see Roux or Tuiloma challenging for a spot in the match-day squad but Herbert insists that nothing is set in stone.

"The important thing about this group is that it needs to be challengeable, with no level of comfort. I have no preconceived ideas at the moment," says Herbert.

Tony Lochhead and Jeremy Christie have been selected despite being uncontracted, with Herbert showing his loyalty to those who have performed in the past. Christie hasn't had a regular club since 2011 while Lochhead was cut by the Phoenix at the start of this season.

Two amateur goalkeepers (Jacob Spoonley and Tamati Williams) with just two caps between them have been selected as back-up to Glen Moss, which is a risk if injury strikes the Phoenix custodian.

The spine of the team looks solid - with particular strength in central defence and on attack. Central midfield and the wide defensive positions are likely to be areas that the Mexicans will exploit.

Key forwards Shane Smeltz, Marco Rojas and Chris Wood have overcome injuries but Payne and Chris Killen are ruled out of both games.

There are 15 survivors from the 2010 World Cup and they will form the bulk of the team that runs out next Friday at the Azteca Stadium. Only Andrew Durante, Marco Rojas and Kosta Barbarouses are serious contenders to start among the players who weren't part of the last Cup campaign. The return match is in Wellington on November 20.

All Whites squad

Goalkeepers: Glen Moss (Phoenix, 24 caps), Jacob Spoonley (Phoenix, 2), Tamati Williams (Auckland City FC, 0)

Defenders: Andrew Durante (Phoenix, 4), Tony Lochhead (unattached, 46), Winston Reid (captain/West Ham Utd, 17), Storm Roux (Central Coast Mariners, 0), Ben Sigmund (Phoenix, 31), Tommy Smith (Ipswich Town FC, 25), Bill Tuiloma (Olympique Marseille, 1), Ivan Vicelich (Auckland City FC, 87)

Midfielders: Leo Bertos (Phoenix, 55), Aaron Clapham (Canterbury Utd, 13), Jeremy Christie (unattached, 26), Craig Henderson (Mjallby Aif, 1), Chris James (Kuopion Palloseura, 14), Michael McGlinchey (Central Coast Mariners, 23).

Forwards: Kosta Barbarouses (Melbourne Victory, 22), Jeremy Brockie (Wellington Phoenix, 40), Rory Fallon (St Johnstone, 15), Marco Rojas (VFB Stuttgart, 15), Shane Smeltz (Perth Glory, 49), Chris Wood (Leicester City FC, 32).

- NZ Herald

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