Kenny Cunningham will add pace for Phoenix

ONSIDE: Costa Rican international footballer Kenny Cunningham, right, has been signed by the Phoenix on a two-year contract.
ONSIDE: Costa Rican international footballer Kenny Cunningham, right, has been signed by the Phoenix on a two-year contract.

The jury is out on just how good the Wellington Phoenix will be next season, but they will certainly be more exciting.

New coach Ernie Merrick yesterday landed his second Costa Rican international, signing speedy winger Kenny Cunningham on a two-year contract.

Merrick said Cunningham was as ''quick as anything'' going around in the A-League, with skill and goal-scoring instincts to boot.

''Not only can Kenny score goals and set them up, but he's very good one-on-one,'' Merrick said.

''Those strikers are always the most difficult to find and the most expensive to pay for because they can just create something themselves. He has tremendous pace and dribbling ability.''

Cunningham was one of five foreign attacking players on Merrick's hit list. Initially the coach was working on the other four but Cunningham rocketed to the front of the queue when compatriot Carlos Hernandez informed Merrick he had become a free agent.

''Carlos has given us an insight into his personality. Carlos has spoken highly of him in that regard and I trust Carlos. I'm not so concerned about his English as much as his Scottish, I believe that's not very good. 

"I think we're building up a bit of a following in Costa Rica now. From what I can gather there's going to be a few watching our A-League games on the internet this year.''

Cunningham's capture is a genuine coup and Merrick's first big signing following the addition of Lewis Italiano and Luke Adams. He is a starting quality player for the second-placed country in the Concacaf region, sandwiched in between the United States and Mexico.

After sorting out a New Zealand visa, Cunningham is due to arrive in Wellington in late August or early September. Merrick said Cunningham was capable of playing on either flank and would compete with Paul Ifill, Leo Bertos and Tyler Boyd for the two wide attacking berths.

Jeremy Brockie and Stein Huysegems appear destined to slug it out for the central striker's position in the front three, with Hernandez operating as a classical No 10.

The final import slot has been earmarked for a central defensive midfielder. The other priority is a left back, before rounding out the squad with young players.

Merrick has also revealed a ruthless streak by cutting Luke Rowe, Tom Biss and Alec Solomons from the club's football school of excellence. He believed all three had bright futures but wanted to focus the academy's attentions on players in the 16 to 18- year-old age bracket.

''It'll be a younger FSE group and it'll be high quality and they'll be pacey, technical players who will get an extended run in FSE to prepare them for A-League. 

"Those other boys are terrific young players but it's just too big a jump at the moment and they need to get experience at a higher level before they can come into an A-League club like ourselves.''

Fairfax Media