Phoenix sign Venezuela international

The Wellington Phoenix have added some international quality to their frontline for the 2023-24 Liberty A-League.

The Phoenix have signed pacey striker Mariana Speckmaier for the upcoming season.

Speckmaier, 25, has been capped 12 times by Venezuela since 2021, and was recently on a national team replacement contract with the Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

Phoenix head coach Paul Temple believes she is the perfect fit.

“We’ve talked from day one about bringing in a striker and a number nine who can help the team in the attacking space,” Temple said. “We were always looking for the right person and feel Mariana is the right person.

“I didn’t just want somebody that could hold the ball up and finish in the box. I wanted somebody who could do that but also be good at pressing from the front and can run into the spaces in behind.

“She’s got speed and athleticism, but is still technically good, and still is hungry to make that next step.

“Mariana knows exactly what she wants. She’s quite mature about her career, where she wants to go, and is driven.

“I feel like that’s an attribute that will really help, not just her individually, but the team.”

Speckmaier signed off from the Washington Spirit with a stunning stoppage time winner against the Orlando Pride in their final NWSL Challenge Cup match earlier this month.

“Mariana knows what it’s like to score in high profile games and she’s played in one of the best competitions in the world.

“She scored a bit of a wonder goal the other week, which gets me excited because it shows the quality that she has.

“Our fans too can now start getting excited because we’ve brought in some really high-quality players to complement the talented core we’ve re-signed, and I think it sends a message as to where we want to go.

“With Hope Breslin and the other forwards we’ve signed we’re starting to look a lot stronger from an attacking sense.

“Hopefully that leads to a high amount of interest in the team and getting people to come to the games and to watch us play.”

Mariana Speckmaier in training with the Washington Spirit. Photo: Washington Spirit.

Mariana Speckmaier believes she can be a regular goal scorer for the Nix.

“I think that’s definitely the idea,” Speckmaier said. “I would love to be that for the team. Just to help the Phoenix team succeed would be great for me, and I want to help the club in any way that I can.

“I’m excited to come in and take the striker role. I played a lot of nine at college and throughout the last few years as a pro, so I’m definitely very comfortable in that position.

“I wouldn’t say I’m your typical nine size wise, but I love playing in that spot.”

She grew up in Miami, Florida and attended Clemson University in South Carolina before being selected by the Spirit with the 39th overall pick in the 2021 NWSL Draft.

Speckmaier has been on “an interesting road” since. She didn’t play for Washington as much as she had hoped in her rookie season so signed with CSKA Moscow early last year.

“I was with the team in Turkey, where they were doing pre-season but then the war in Ukraine broke out so I told the team I wasn’t going back to Russia with them.”

Mariana Speckmaier in action for the Washington Spirit in the NWSL. Photo: Washington Spirit.

She then joined Valur in Iceland for the 2022-23 season.

“It was super cool to live in Reykjavik. It was really cold, which is not something I’m used to, but it was cool to experience a different type of living situation and Iceland is a beautiful country.

However, “it was a tough experience soccer wise” and she “somehow found my way back to the Spirit”.“And then I was given this opportunity with the Phoenix, so it’s been a crazy rollercoaster.”

But it was an easy decision for Speckmaier to commit to moving to another corner of the globe.

“I grew up in Miami so I’ve been around different cultures my whole life.

“My family is from all over so being in different parts of the world excites me more than it scares me.

“I’m always up for a change to experience other cultures.”

Mariana Speckmaier will arrive in Wellington early next month for the start of pre-season training.

She is the 15th player confirmed in the Wellington Phoenix women’s squad for the 2023-24 Liberty A-League, joining fellow forwards Emma Main and Michaela Robertson, goalkeeper Brianna Edwards, defenders Hailey Davidson, Michaela Foster, Kate Taylor, Mackenzie Barry, Marisa van der Meer and Rebecca Lake, and midfielders Hope Breslin, Chloe Knott, Grace Wisnewski, Alyssa Whinham and Macey Fraser.