Liberty A-League season preview: Wellington Phoenix

It’s time for the ‘Nix to make history. 

As the club’s inaugural Liberty A-League campaign begins, a young and hungry squad has jumped on board ready to embark on the very first steps of the club’s seismic journey.

Major signings: Lily Alfeld, Grace Jale, Annabel Martin

Yeoman-Dale’s XI: x

-Channel 10/Paramount+ football analyst Georgia Yeoman-Dale gives her verdict on the Wellington Phoenix squad.

Strength: “They’re an unknown. Teams won’t know what they’re up against when they prepare to take on Wellington. The difference for them is with relocating it’s almost like a camp situation – that can often galvanise a squad.” 

Weakness: “It’s a side that has a lot of players who haven’t played football professionally. Whether they’re good young players coming through, if you look at other clubs and they’ll have four or five who haven’t played in the league before. This is almost a whole side who haven’t played professionally.”

Key player: “Alfeld is going to have her work cut out for her. She was under pressure last year at Glory too, and gave a good account of herself. She also brings league experience which could be invaluable with so many young players in the side.”

Verdict: “It’s a first season for Wellington, which makes it hard to predict. But the priority for head coach Gemma Lewis will be to get experience into her squad to equip the playing group for seasons to come.”

Head coach: Gemma Lewis

The Phoenix Women’s team is in safe hands this season, with Gemma Lewis and assistant Natalie Lawrence arriving on the scene with extensive experience nurturing young Kiwi talent.

Lewis, a former Wales international, is of the country’s top female coaches. A former assistant coach for the Football Ferns and head coach of the New Zealand U20 Women’s side, Lewis was also on the coaching staff of the nation’s bronze-medal winning team at the 2018 FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup.

The Phoenix boss said her side doesn’t have a whole lot to lose this season – and that’s the mentality she’ll attempt to harness throughout the season as the wildcard ‘Nix look to make a statement in the club’s maiden Liberty A-League season.

Phoenix boss Gemma Lewis will guide the club through its maiden season in the Liberty A-League

Can’t take your eyes off: Grace Jale

Grace Jale is one of Wellington’s key off-season signings, being the only member of the ‘Nix squad to have represented New Zealand on the international stage at senior level.

She made her four appearances for the Football Ferns in quick succession at the OFC Nations Cup, coming off the bench on all four occasions and scoring two goals – including a debut strike against Tonga.

Jale brings height to the midfield and could be used by Lewis to lead the line this season, given her eye to goal and attacking instinct.

Phoenix signing Grace Jale will wear number 10 in yellow and black this season.

Reasons to be cheerful: What’s there to lose for this Phoenix side? In the earliest moments of the club’s foray into women’s football, there’s only good to come from the Phoenix putting their talents to the test against the established clubs of the Liberty A-League.

For the first time in history there’s a visual representation of a women’s football club in a professional competition for young Kiwi girls to look up to, and dream of one day filling the boots of their heroes in yellow and black. The 2021/22 season will provide highs, lows and and lessons aplenty for Lewis’ side to take in their stride as they usher in the club’s new era, where both men and women fly the flag in pursuit of the newly-formed A-Leagues Club Championship.

… and reasons to be fearful: It’s a results business, football, and when assessing Wellington’s chances of collecting points in the Liberty A-League campaign it’s hard to spot where they’d come from.

Lewis’ appointment as head coach, and the subsequent recruitment of a band of youngsters plucked predominantly from New Zealand’s domestic competitions, the future looks encouraging for a team attempting to thrive with an identity built on its home soil – but that future is unlikely to manifest early doors. Lean times will precede any period of success – so sit tight, Phoenix fans. 

Have you heard our new A-Leagues anthem yet? Listen below!

Fans’ eye: Dean Bartle

I’ve been a long-term Wellington fan, and a few years ago I bought a laser cutter. I was looking for things to make, and I came up with the idea of making a few plaques and tokens for other supporters and players. I usually make about 40 or 50 of them, go along to the game and hand them out to various people as a souvenir from the match.

I’ve been doing it for the men’s team and now I’ve got the pleasure of doing it for the women’s team as well. Any time we sign a new player I make one for them. I’m going to be handing them over to the team manager, and she can hand them out to the team.

I hope it helps to tell the players ‘you’re not alone, you’ve got people behind you and people who want you to be competitive, have a good time and gain some experience’. I’d like to see them develop and do their best. 

In a tribute to Wollongong, we’re grateful for the people of Wollongong coming out to the men’s games, and now there’s a buzz about the women’s season kicking off this weekend. When you’re in Australia you’re always the away supporters, and usually there’s 15 or 20 of us, but we’ve had people turning up in Wollongong who have really made a great difference. I’m feeling confident we’ll get a good following between the Phoenix fans and people from Wollongong. 

I’m most excited to see the captain Lily Alfeld. She’s one of the only ones who really knows what it’s like to play in the A-League. Lily is the only one we’ve gotten to know, really, but I’m sure the others will step up across the season. She’s the captain, she’s got a very important role being a Kiwi and understanding the values and attitudes of the club.


By Tom Smithies and Matt Comito

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Melbourne City: Another season of obscurity for the heavyweights?

Melbourne Victory: Can the champions go back-to-back?

Newcastle Jets: Do international arrivals boost Newcastle’s chances?

Sydney FC: Does club legend Polias’ absence take its toll on the premiers?

Perth Glory: De Vanna arrives eager bounce Perth back up the table

Wellington Phoenix: can the exuberance of youth help Wellington make a fast start?

Western Sydney Wanderers: Can coach Cannuli inspire a postseason charge?

LISTEN: Join Danny Townsend, Daniel Garb, Robbie Cornthwaite and Amy Chapman for a special edition of the Official A-Leagues Podcast. Listen here, or via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.