Auckland City FC midfielder Reid Drake is eager to continue his OFC Champions League form when the region’s premier club competition resumes with the quarter finals this weekend.
After watching from the bench as Auckland City FC regained the New Zealand title with a 1-0 win over Team Wellington in the ISPS Handa Premiership grand final on Sunday, Drake is eager to play a more active hand for the Navy Blues, just as he did in their group stage campaign.
Waiting on the pine for the call to warm up has largely been Drake’s experience of the national league this season – just three of his 13 Premiership appearances have been starts – but he’s had a larger involvement in their continental campaign, playing all 270 minutes so far of their quest for a 10th confederation title.
Tighter restrictions on the number of foreign players in the Champions League means Ramon Tribulietx will need to make at least two changes to his starting line-up from Sunday’s domestic finale and given his role in the campaign so far, Drake looks a good bet to be involved.
The 22-year-old is comfortable with his role, as much as any ambitious footballer can be, but is itching to once again hear the opening whistle from the preferred side of the white lines.
“As a footballer you always want to be playing in the starting eleven but it is a team game and whatever my role was in the national league it was more coming off the bench and that was fine, “Drake says.
“But I’m relishing the opportunity I had in the group stage and I’d love to keep going with that form and keep playing every game as long as far as we go in the competition.”
Into his third season with the club, Drake is at the older end of a group of young players Tribulietx has turned to this season in both competitions – Sunday’s match-winner Callum McCowatt has been a constant in Auckland sides this season and is just 19 – and Drake says the group have shown they can deliver the same high-standards fans have come to expect from the Navy Blues.
“It’s just our job,” Drake says, “we turn up to training five nights a week and learn off the older players – the majority of which are ex-pros – and personally, after being there for three seasons, you do learn a lot from those players.
“So when the opportunity is provided I feel pretty comfortable in going out there to do the job. You draw on previous experience, from training and from watching the older players and I think the quality stays the same for us no matter who goes out there, whether it’s younger or older players, foreign or Kiwi.”
Aside from his greater role in the OFC Champions League, Drake also played the full 90 minutes in a FIFA Club World Cup warm up against Al Ittihad Kalba SC in Dubai and last year featured in the club’s successful Lunar New Year Cup tournament in Hong Kong.
He believes a successful OFC Champions League campaign could be a springboard for a greater role in all competitions next season but that it’s down to him to make the most of each and every opportunity.
“All of those games – those international fixtures and the Champions League games – you want to prove a point every time. Like I said, as a footballer you want to be playing every game you can. If you work hard and play well then you never know what opportunities will be provided through good performances. I think if I’m playing well and keep the form up then there might be a bigger role in the team for me but we’ll have to wait and see.”
With new All Whites coach Fritz Schmid dipping into the national league to populate his first squad recently, Drake – who has yet to pull on the white shirt at any level – has even more motivation to force his way into the Auckland City starting eleven on a more regular basis.
“You always want to have the opportunity to represent your country and naturally it’s a dream of mine. I think it’s awesome Cam [Howieson] was called up recently and Te Atawhai [Hudson-Wihongi] was on the stand-by list so to know that those players are there or thereabouts and you’re working with them every day. I’d love to try get up top their standard and learn as much as I can from them and hopefully one day earn a call up for New Zealand which would be a dream of mine.”
Drake and his Auckland City teammates claimed a new piece of history on Sunday with their seventh domestic title taking them past Christchurch United and Mt Wellington in the list of most New Zealand titles.
It also extended their run of not conceding to 918 minutes in the national league (a New Zealand record) and to 1188 in all competitions since January 13. Going back to the group stage last year, Auckland have not conceded an OFC Champions League goal in 867 minutes a streak that Drake says that the side naturally wants to extend.
“We know if we don’t concede goals we’re going to be in a position to win the game. We know that we’re always going to create a chance or three. The main aim is to keep a clean sheet and to win. You’re never aware of those records until they are pointed out in public but once you do know you want to keep it rolling as long as possible and see how long you can ride that wave.”
Auckland City host Solomon Island champions Solomon Warriors at 2pm Sunday (local time) at Kiwitea Street in the quarter finals of the OFC Champions League.