Keeper Jacob Spoonley in for a busy weekend
Goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley has a hectic weekend ahead of him.
The Team Wellington captain will play in tomorrow's national league semifinal, first leg, against Hawke's Bay United in Napier before embarking on a mad dash to join his All Whites' team-mates in Tokyo.
The All Whites' Phoenix contingent fly out of Wellington at 4.20pm tomorrow to prepare for Wednesday night's friendly against Japan.
But with tomorrow's semifinal kicking off at 2pm, that was never an option for Spoonley, the back-up to All Whites captain Glen Moss.
Initially he was worried he would have to choose between club and country but a plan was hatched to get him to Tokyo via Auckland and Guangzhou.
"It was a wee bit of a nightmare scenario there for a wee while, where I might not have been able to cover both bases but we've been able to work out an indirect flight route," Spoonley said.
"I did this a couple of years ago when the All Whites played in China so I kind of know what I'm getting myself into and it's just about managing it."
Spoonley, 26, again shaded Jake Gleeson, 23, as Moss' back-up.
Gleeson is contracted to MLS club Portland Timbers but has been loaned out to the Sacramento Republic to earn gametime.
Spoonley, part of the All Whites' squad that lost to Mexico last November, said playing World Cup-bound Japan was the next best thing to qualifying for the tournament itself.
"Because our bubble burst in November, we've kind of forgotten there's a World Cup coming up. But facing Japan in a World Cup year, I think that's pretty special because technically and tactically, they've always been right on the money and I've been surprised they haven't done more in the last two World Cups. Especially with Shinji Kagawa and [Keisuke] Honda, you're looking at two of the players in the top bracket in the world. That'll be daunting and exciting at the same time."
But first things first.
Wellington start favourites tomorrow after beating Hawke's Bay twice during the regular season.
Coach Matt Calcott's side has scored goals freely throughout but last weekend's 5-0 rout of WaiBop United was their first clean sheet of the season.
"We've had some screamers scored against us this year and we've also conceded some soft goals," Spoonley said.
"We were dealing with a whole new back four and there was also countless changes due to injury and suspensions. So we struggled to bed in as a unit and that's probably been one of the main problems throughout the season."
Led by skipper Bill Robertson, Hawke's Bay have attempted to knock slick-passing Wellington off their game with physical tactics this season.
Even though it had been ultimately unsuccessful, Spoonley was expecting more of the same at Bluewater Stadium.
"You kind of weather the storm against them and it's the old cliche, you earn the right to play football," Spoonley said.
"We know what's going to come."
Calcott has some tough decisions ahead of him with centre back James Musa back from suspension and German utility Tobias Bertsch available again after recovering from a broken arm.
Spoonley said Phoenix triallist Shaun Timmins had also made a difference since joining the squad.
"His strength on the ball and his confidence when playing the ball has really allowed us to have a good base at the back in the past couple of weeks."
AT A GLANCE
What: National league semifinal, first leg
Where: Bluewater Stadium, Napier
When: 2pm tomorrow
Hawke's Bay (from): Richard Gillespie, Aaron Jones, Ross Haviland, Bill Robertson, Tom Biss, David Mulligan, Matt Hastings, Sean Lovemore, Tomas Mosquera, Jamie Mason, Danny Wilson, Fergus Neil, Harley Rodeka, Sean Morris, Grant Robson, Harry Edge, Nathaniel Hailemariam, Harry Morton, Matt Gould
Wellington (from): Jacob Spoonley, Tom Doyle, Shaun Timmins, James Musa, Justin Gulley, Cole Peverley, Colin Murphy, Roy Kayara, Charlie Henry, Joel Stevens, Henry Fa'arodo, Dan Clarke, Tobias Bertsch, Cam Lindsay, Jamie De Abreu, Sam Mason-Smith, Adam Cowan, Clayton Lewis, Tamupiwa Dimairo, Conor Ramsey