Kelli Brown has forced her way back into the Liberty A-League.
The young forward, who was a member of the inaugural Wellington Phoenix women’s squad, has signed with the club for the 2023-24 season after missing out on a contract last year.
Brown, 22, has earned back her place in the Phoenix squad after scoring 23 goals in 26 matches for Macarthur Rams FC in the National Premier Leagues (NPL) New South Wales women’s competition this year, finishing a close second in the golden boot race.
Phoenix head coach Paul Temple says Brown has “been too good to not sign”.
“Kelli’s scored goals wherever she’s been,” Temple said. “She scored goals for New Zealand at the under-17 World Cup, in the national league last year and has been one of the top scorers in the NPL this year. It makes it hard to ignore her.
“We were also looking for somebody that is quite versatile. She’s played as a wide forward predominantly this season but she has also played as a striker for Macarthur so she gives us some options up front.
“Kelli’s going to suit the way we want to play and she’s in really good goalscoring form so she’s going to come into pre-season on the back of a really strong NPL season, where she’s outscoring other really high quality A-League players.”
The former New Zealand age-group international, who was a key member of the history-making team that finished third at the 2018 U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay, now has the chance to “prove herself at the A-League level again”.
“Kelli’s done all she could to get recognised again. It shows a lot of maturity.
“When you have a little bit of a setback and you don’t get re-signed the best thing you can do is go, and make a point and what a way for her to do it.
“She’s been smashing in the goals in NPL so she deserves a chance to come back in and show us what she can do.”
Kelli Brown is hoping she can be a regular goal scorer for the Wellington Phoenix.
“That’s the aim of the game and I don’t see why not,” Brown said.
“Going off the season that I’ve just had hopefully I can bring some goal scoring.
“I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with some of the girls and picking up where we left off. It’ll be good to get back and gel.”
She was limited to just six appearances in the Phoenix women’s maiden season because of an ankle injury and concussion.
“It was pretty rocky, but it also gave me an opportunity to be a part of a professional environment and see it from a different perspective.
“I’m still grateful that I was able to be part of that first team.
“Now I’m hopefully going to see it from the other side too. I’m super excited to be able to come back and give it another crack.”
Brown has relished being injury-free in 2023.
“It’s been wicked to be back playing. I’ve been able to find my feet again and enjoy what I’m doing.
“I’ve been concentrating on the stuff outside of football to be able to make sure I’m staying strong.”
And she is grateful to have been given the opportunity to play for Macarthur Rams in NPL NSW.
“It was kind of scary at the start, but it’s been really cool and everyone over here has been really welcoming.
“It was hard not being part of the Phoenix last season, but I’ve been able to go away, work and do what I needed to do to get back.
“To be able to be back with the girls on home soil is exciting.”
Kelli Brown will join the Wellington Phoenix after the NPL NSW playoffs, with the second-placed Macarthur Rams to play third-placed North West Sydney Spirit in a semi-final on Sunday.
The majority of the Phoenix squad have started assembling in Wellington, with pre-season training starting on Friday.