Paul Ifill believes the current Phoenix squad is the best since his arrival in 2009 and the fact he is no certainty to start the season opener is proof.
The 32-year-old is set to return from knee and ankle injury today in the club's final pre-season game against Manawatu in Palmerston North.
If Ifill comes through his planned 45-minute stint unscathed then he enters the frame for next Saturday's A-League opener against Sydney FC in Wellington.
But while Ifill's unavailability would be an obvious setback for coach Ricki Herbert, it would no longer be seen as a potentially fatal flaw.
With the club's new owners facilitating a steady stream of sensible off-season signings, Ifill now has Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems, Benjamin Totori, Louis Fenton, Tyler Boyd and Ricardo Clarke for attacking company.
"We have got a helluva lot of different attacking options this year and I think that's great for Ricki," Ifill said after yesterday's inter-squad training game in Newtown.
"If it had been last year then I would have probably been playing 90 minutes [today] and definitely playing against Sydney. Whereas now he can say maybe 45 [today] and then if he's good enough for the bench that's fine, because he trusts his players like Benji and Brocks and young Louis who have come in and done really well.
"So I think it's a good place to be and I think it's the best squad we've had since I've been here."
Ifill has requested to play as a winger this season with Brockie and Huysegems set to get first crack at developing a strike partnership.
"I do enjoy playing up front but I think I'm more effective wide," Ifill said.
"Brocks has come in and scored a lot of goals and I've enjoyed feeding him so I think we've sort of come up with an understanding.
"Obviously I haven't played with Stein yet but I've seen him in training and he looks tidy. So hopefully I can just make some chances for them and chip in with a few goals myself as well."
Ifill suffered a small tear in his right knee's medial collateral ligament as well as ankle bruising in a pre-season game against Petone on September 11.
While happy with his recovery, Ifill said he hadn't been pain-free for five years.
"Honestly, that's the truth. I don't know what to say. I'm not even joking."
Midfielder Vince Lia is also set to play 45 minutes at Memorial Park as he continues his recovery from a knee injury but is unlikely to feature against Sydney.
Assistant coach Chris Greenacre said the club would continue working on its preferred 4-1-3-2 formation against national league stragglers Manawatu.
Manny Muscat will screen the back four, with Alex Smith freed up to link play with the strikers and wingers.
The Phoenix suddenly have pace to burn this season and Greenacre said they didn't want to rely on either a possession or counter-attacking game.
"If you just rely on one way of playing you become really predictable.
"But I think with the personnel that we've got and the different options that we've got, it will cause the opposition problems," Greenacre said.
"[Stein's] got a great touch. He brings other players into the equation and his movement is very, very good. On the whole, with what we've seen, we're very pleased and impressed with what he's brought to the club."
Herbert said left back Tony Lochhead had a hamstring niggle and would probably sit out today but was in no danger of missing the season opener.
Phoenix academy defender Alec Solomon has been named in Manawatu's squad, as have Lower Hutt City duo Hamish Watson and Tobias Bertsch.
Phoenix (from): Mark Paston, Leo Bertos, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Luke Rowe, Manny Muscat, Alex Smith, Louis Fenton, Benjamin Totori, Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems, Glen Moss, Michael Boxall, Cameron Lindsay, Justin Gulley, Vince Lia, Tom Doyle, Tom Biss, Paul Ifill, Tyler Boyd, Ricardo Clarke, Scott Basalaj
Manawatu (from): Matt Borren, Matt Gould, Ben Wilkes, Wade Randle, Liam Higgins, Jordan Martens, Alec Solomon, Sam Redwood, Masaki Nomoto, Matt Kennedy, Nathan Cooksley, Andy Frampton, Tobias Bertsch, Tyson Brandt, Billy Scott, Josh Chettleburgh, Dale Higham, Khair Jones, Seule Soromon, Tom Mosqeura, Hamish Watson, Michael Fraser
Kickoff: 2pm today at Palmerston North's Memorial Park
- © Fairfax NZ News