Football Ferns coach Tony Readings says his team will get a good benchmark of where they stand in world football on the tour of the USA next month.
The World No 20 will face the World No 1 and defending FIFA World Cup Champions USA in two international friendlies in Denver and Cincinnati in September, and Readings has named a squad that contains a mixture of experience and also some exciting new players.
Readings said it is an important tour for building towards the FIFA World Cup in 2019 and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and they have selected 23 players with that in mind.
“It’s a bigger squad than what we have selected in the past and we have done that deliberately,” said Readings.
“For the next World Cup and Olympics we want to be choosing from a squad that has more quality players and depth. It is a squad that is quite varied. We have some senior players and some younger ones and there is a mixture of professional and amateur players. The goal now is to give these players the best experience we can against one of the best teams in the world so when we get to 2019 and 2020 we have an experienced squad to choose from.”
Two new players come into the squad in forward Katie Rood, who last week signed her first professional deal with Juventus and defender Elizabeth Anton (Western Springs) while midfielder Olivia Chance is called back into the squad after re-signing with the Everton FC.
“Katie and Liz are two players we have known for a long time and we are trying to give new players opportunities to stake their claim and create more competition for places,” he said.
“Katie Rood was part of our FFDP programme here and she has signed a contract with Juventus which is fantastic. The more pros we have the better. Liz Anton has been working very hard and has represented New Zealand at two age group World Cups. She has been playing well in the FFDP and that programme is starting to reap some rewards.”
Readings said they have been monitoring midfielder Chance’s progress in England, and Iceland and University football in the USA.
“She is starting to put herself back on the radar for us – it is another great opportunity to look at someone new.”
The three new caps from the Cyprus Cup in March – goalkeeper Anna Leat, midfielder Malia Steinmetz and forward Martine Puketapu – all return to continue their progression.
“The younger players coming through, it is important that we give them opportunities and a chance to improve on the world stage. Hopefully they will become pros by 2019 and 2020 as well.”
Striker Amber Hearn, who has scored 53 goals during her 120 internationals for New Zealand, has opted to sit out this international window, while Katie Duncan has retired from international football.
“Anyone who knows about the Football Ferns will know that Katie has played a massive part in the past 10 years of our team,” said Readings. “She helped take the Ferns from being a team that didn’t really compete on the world stage and being a part-time programme into a more professional programme and being able to compete with some of the best teams in the world.
“Amber is not available and that is a big loss both on and off the pitch because she is a great player, but her absence gives us the chance to keep building that depth.”
It will be the first time the Football Ferns will play the USA since they were beaten by the defending Olympic champions 2-0 last year in their opening game of the Rio Olympics.
“We know that it is not going to be easy. We have given them a run for their money before and they have beaten us comfortably as well. So this is an opportunity for us to see where we are at both on and off the pitch. We have things we need to establish to be a truly high performing team.”
The Football Ferns games against the USA will be live on SKY Sport.
Football Ferns squad for the tour of the USA (Club – NZ unless noted, caps and goals)
Victoria Esson (North Shore United) 0, 0
Anna Leat (Glenfield Rovers) 2, 0
Erin Nayler (Girondins Bordeaux, France) 48, 0
Elizabeth Anton (Western Springs) 0, 0
CJ Bott (USV Jena, Germany) 5, 0
Anna Green (Reading, England) 64, 7
Meikayla Moore (Norwest United) 20, 0
Ria Percival (FC Basel, Switzerland) 124, 11
Ali Riley (FC Rosengard, Sweden) (c) 109, 1
Rebekah Stott (Seattle Reign, USA) 57, 4
Annalie Longo (Cashmere Technical) 99, 9
Betsy Hassett (KR Reykjavik, Iceland) 99, 8
Katie Bowen (FC Kansas City, USA) 45, 1
Olivia Chance (Everton, England) 4, 0
Daisy Cleverley (Berkeley University, USA) 5, 2
Malia Steinmetz (Forrest Hill Milford United) 0, 0
Kirsty Yallop (Klepp IL, Norway) 102, 12
Jane Barnett (Norwest United) 0, 0
Aimee Phillips (Eastern Suburbs) 4, 1
Martine Puketapu (Colorado University, USA) 0, 0
Katie Rood (Juventus, Italy) 0, 0
Rosie White (Boston Breakers, USA) 88, 17
Hannah Wilkinson (Vittsjo GIK, Sweden) 81, 24
Football Ferns vs. USA
15 September, kick off at 8pm (local time)
Dick’s Sports Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado
19 September, kick off 7:30 pm (local time)
Nippert Stadium on the campus of the University of Cincinnati