Louis Fenton's dislocated shoulder could be Justin Gulley's big break.
Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick needs a new right back after Fenton's mishap at Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday.
A "gutted" Fenton is yet to have scans on the injury ,but even if he doesn't require surgery he is set to be out for 6-8 weeks and will miss the first few rounds of the A-League season, which kicks off on October 13.
Merrick said Fenton's New Zealand under-20 team-mate Gulley, and All Whites Leo Bertos and Michael Boxall, were the three candidates to fill his boots.
Gulley is with the Phoenix's football school of excellence and does not have an A-League contract but has impressed throughout the pre-season.
"The good thing about Justin is he was FSE last year and he's trained from day one with us this year," Merrick said.
"Every time he's come on he's done a terrific job for us. He's very similar to Louis, very agile, quick and tough in the tackle."
Gulley is viewed as a central midfielder or right back, while winger Bertos or centre back Boxall would be more stop-gap options.
"I don't think Leo is a long-term right back for us, he's more of an attacking-type player. But I think for a short-term gap he can do the job and that's obviously how Ricki Herbert's looked at him as well. For a centre back Michael Boxall is very fast so he can play there. I'll wait until after the Auckland City game on Saturday to finalise my decision."
New signing Josh Brindell-South is a natural fullback but is not yet match-fit after recovering from a groin injury.
Merrick also faces a three-way decision of who to play in goal in round one.
Glen Moss and possibly Jacob Spoonley will be away with the All Whites while Lewis Italiano (ankle) will not be fit.
That leaves Spoonley, if available, Auckland City's Tamati Williams and Team Wellington's James McPeake as the three contenders.
The release of Cameron Lindsay to Team Wellington means the Phoenix have 19 players on the books and Merrick would like to have 22 come the start of the season.
Merrick said he was looking overseas less than he had been previously, which means triallists Gulley, Tobias Bertsch and Hamish Watson appear well placed to gain pro contracts.
Clubs can have up to 23 A-League players on the books and Merrick is keen to keep one spot open for a national league bolter.
He also has the flexibility of signing a short-term injury replacement while Fenton is crocked, and can call up round one replacements for the national team players.
Strikers Paul Ifill and Kenny Cunningham missed Saturday's 1-1 draw with New Zealand A but both are expected to be fit for the opener against Brisbane Roar at Westpac Stadium.
Merrick would not say whether Lindsay's contract had been paid out in full but hoped he could rebuild his confidence with regular gametime.
"He'll also be training with us on a regular basis and I think Cam's made the right decision. It's like Jeremy Brockie, who is a great story. He couldn't get game time, went back into the ASB [Premiership] and made a strong comeback."
- The Dominion Post
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