Tough challenge first-up for WBOP
Coach Peter Smith admits his youthful Waikato-Bay of Plenty side will be "up against it" when it kicks off its National Women's League season on Sunday.
The WBOP side will travel to face title favourites Northern Football at Fred Taylor Park, Auckland, with Smith having assembled a squad which contains a lot of new faces and a notable focus on youth.
"They'll be a well-organised, big, strong and technically proficient team who'll enjoy having the home advantage," Smith said of the defending champs. "However, we'll go up there and be ready for the challenge".
The league enters its 10th season with some important tweaks to the format from the past two seasons. While last year's league focused on youth - just five over-age players were allowed in each squad and only three on the pitch at any one time - the restrictions have been relaxed to cater for a group of talented players moving into their early 20s.
Each squad must field at least five under-18 players at any one time but squad composition outside that restriction is up to the individual federation.
The choice of the age-limit aligns the league with the age-group World Cup cycle, with the next Fifa Under-20 World Cup scheduled for Canada in 2014.
The WBOP squad which has performed strongly in recent seasons will be without internationals Sarah McLaughlin, Olivia Chance, Kate Loye and Holly Patterson. McLaughlin and Patterson are playing for Adelaide in the Australian W-League and Chance and Loye are on football scholarships at colleges in the United States.
Smith said the absence of that quartet has exposed the next tier of players.
"They've come into the squad and we're now looking ahead to the future and further developing these players", said Smith, whose squad of 24 players comprises 15 who are 18 years or younger.
The goal for WBOP this season is to play an attractive brand of football.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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