Wellington are geared up to cope with pressure
Coach Matt Calcott reckons Team Wellington will have a target on their backs for two reasons this national league season.
One is because they are a fair side, having finished runners-up to tomorrow's opponents Waitakere United last season.
And secondly because their squad boasts the Phoenix's eight academy players, who have been identified as some of the hottest talents in the domestic game.
But while fullbacks Luke Rowe and Justin Gulley were important cogs in Wellington's grand final run last season, Scott Basalaj, Tom Doyle, Tobias Bertsch, Hamish Watson, Tom Biss and Alec Solomons are yet to fully earn their national league stripes.
"You can train all you like but now we get to see what they're doing on a Sunday around the country," said Calcott, who is in his second season as Wellington coach.
"They're in an excellent professional environment now and national league football will be a yardstick to where they are at. Everyone's going to want to knock us over.
"Some of the other young players around the country will want to prove a point and we're asking our players to be incredibly professional and for their performances to be consistent."
Calcott is yet to pick his starting XI for tomorrow's season-opener at Fred Taylor Park, but Henry Fa'arodo is in the Solomon Islands and Corey Chettleburgh and Adam McGeorge are under injury clouds ahead of today's final team run.
Schoolboy goalkeeper Basalaj, a star at age-group level, will get a start.
"He's been waiting in the wings for a year or so and it's a good opportunity for him to get a lot of national league football because some of these young guys haven't had a lot yet."
Danish duo Andreas Damgaard, a defender, and Karsten Viborg, a striker, are two interesting new faces, while Calcott is likely to add more firepower to his squad in coming weeks.
"I think we're looking pretty strong at the back and in midfield," Calcott said.
"We're looking to maybe add the odd player further forward and we still have some spots on the roster for a reason."
Defending champions Waitakere have replaced coach Neil Emblen with Paul Marshall, nabbed last season's golden boot, George Slefendorfas, from Canterbury United, and lured former All Whites David Mulligan and Chad Coombes across town from Auckland City.
They beat Auckland 2-1 in the Charity Cup last weekend, while Calcott's experimental Wellington side lost 3-1 to Hawke's Bay United.
Meanwhile, Capital and Central square off in a national women's league local derby at Palmerston North's Memorial Park tomorrow.
Capital drew 1-1 with Mainland in round one, while Emma Boyack scored twice in Central's 3-all draw with Footballsouth.