The Wellington Phoenix hope their new Mexican playmaker Gael Sandoval can become a permanent signing, with a similar impact to compatriot Ulises Davila.
Sandoval, a veteran of seven seasons in the top tier of Mexican football, arrived in Sydney on Monday, after paperwork and travel documents were finalised last week.
The 26-year-old has joined on loan from Club Deportivo Guadalajara until the end of the current A-League season, though Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay wants Sandoval to be a long-term fixture.
"That's the way we're looking at it," said Talay. "For me, the foreigners always do well in their second season - the first season, they find it tough to adapt.
"It takes time for them to adjust to the game but hopefully he fits right in and we can continue working with him for the season after."
After hitting the jackpot with Davila, the Phoenix are hoping for another Mexican gem.
Sandoval has made 119 appearances in Mexico's top division (Liga MX) for Santos Laguna, Guadalajara, FC Juárez and Mazatlan, with seven goals and 16 assists.
He helped Santos Laguna win the Liga MX in the 2017/2018 season and was part of the Guadalajara team that took out the Concacaf Champions League later that season.
"He's still young and he has played quite a lot of games, in a good competition," said Talay. "He has a lot of ambition and that's why he's coming here, which is a great thing for us."
Aside from his football resume, Talay came away impressed from a couple of Zoom calls – "he's coming here with the right intents."
Talay also revealed that Davila, who made a lucrative off-season switch to MacArthur FC after two memorable Phoenix campaigns, was a vital reference, as a former teammate of Sandoval at Santos Laguna.
"Uli may not be here, he is at another club but we still have a relationship," said Talay. "These are the type of things that you rely on [and] the football world is a small world."
"We try to source the player that we believe is a player we want to bring into Wellington Phoenix. And sometimes it helps when you have people that you trust and believe in, that know that person as well. Uli gave us some good remarks on him as well, about his character."
Sandoval will start training on Thursday, after 72 hours in self-isolation, but won't be available to play a match until the A-League transfer window opens on January 14.
"I'm hoping that he brings that Central American flair that we need, especially with the position that he plays," said Talay. "It's an opportunity for him and my job is to get the best out of him."
Sandoval is ready for the challenge of playing abroad.
"It's been a goal for me to play in another country and my dream to play outside of Mexico," Sandoval told the club's website, adding that Davila had played a key role in his move.
"I talked with Ulises before I talked with the Phoenix," said Sandoval. "Uli has told me the team is great, New Zealand is great … and it's a good life. He explained about everything; the team, the coach, the city - and he supported me."
A more immediate focus for the Phoenix is the FFA Cup quarterfinal against Melbourne City on Wednesday night (9.30pm), with Talay confirming he will pick a near full-strength team, after resting some first-choice men in the two previous Cup games.
"We will go in with a strong squad," said Talay. "We win this, you win the next one and then we've got opportunity to win a trophy so we'll push as hard as we can."
It will be the sixth match for the Phoenix in 20 days, and their third consecutive midweek game but Talay only sees positives.
"It's a great opportunity for the boys to step up," said Talay. "And it's a one-off game so hopefully they can go out there and give everything."
Goalkeeper Oli Sail is unavailable, as the club await scan results on his injured hip.
Rookie Alex Paulsen (19), who had a solid debut in the 2-1 loss to Sydney on Sunday, will be between the sticks, while reserves goalie Henry Gray (16) will join the team as backup.