Star signings for Phoenix

WELLINGTON Phoenix FC have scored a significant coup ahead of their second season in the Hyundai A-League by signing defender Andrew Durante, the star of the Newcastle Jets’ grand final victory against the Central Coast Mariners.

WELLINGTON Phoenix FC have scored a significant coup ahead of their second season in the Hyundai A-League by signing defender Andrew Durante, the star of the Newcastle Jets- grand final victory against the Central Coast Mariners.

Durante, linchpin of the tough Jets defence during their Hyundai A-League 2007/08 season, was awarded the Joe Marston Medal as best and fairest player in last Sunday-s 1-0 grand final win.

In a second coup for the Phoenix, former Socceroos defender/midfielder Jon McKain has also signed to bolster the Wellington club-s defensive stocks.

Both Durante and McKain join the Phoenix on two-year deals.

Durante, 25, was one of the standout players during the Hyundai A-League 2007/08 season and was rewarded will a call-up to Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek-s training squad for Australia-s World Cup qualifying campaign.

The experienced centre/right back played 40 matches for the Jets since making his Hyundai A-League debut in August 2006.

After the highs of winning the grand final with the Jets, Durante said he was looking forward to hooking up with his new Phoenix teammates.

“It-s good to be able to leave Newcastle on such a high and hopefully I can bring that positivity to Wellington and it will rub off on the players.”

McKain is a former Australian under-20, under-23 and senior representative with 12 caps for the Socceroos. The 25-year-old previously played with the Brisbane Strikers in the National Soccer League before heading to Romania, where he played for FC National Bucharest and FCU Politehnica Timisoara in the Liga 1 competition.

Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata was delighted to have secured the signatures of the dual defenders.

“Andrew Durante and Jon McKain are exceptional players and exactly what the club was looking for as we build toward season two in the Hyundai A-League. Both are experienced, proven performers at the highest level and will be integral to the continuing evolution of the club.

“And it-s not only on the park where we think these two players will have an impact – both are also exceptional leaders off it and will help mould the squad into a formidable unit.”

The signing of McKain proved the worth of a scouting mission to Europe undertaken by Pignata and Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert.

“I don-t think we would have been able to secure the services of Jon without being on the ground in Europe,” Pignata said. “The trip allowed us to touch base directly with players and agents to ensure deals were done promptly and properly. It was certainly a very worthwhile exercise and Jon-s signature is proof of that.”

Durante and McKain will significantly bolster the Phoenix-s defensive stocks, while the search continues for a strike partner for prolific season one scorer Shane Smeltz, as well as another attacking midfielder and a right back.

“We-re very close to putting players in those positions,” Pignata said. “I think we-ll have an extremely competitive squad for the 2008/09 season and we-ll really give the league a shake-up.”

The addition of Durante and McKain take to three the number of new signings for the Phoenix, with former Perth Glory and current All Whites wing Leo Bertos signing a two-year deal with the Wellington club in January.

The Phoenix have released marquee player Ahmad Elrich, Brazilian midfielder Felipe and defender Kristian Rees.

Date of birth: May 3, 1982 in Sydney (25 years)
Height, weight: 1.82m, 75kg
Playing position: Central defender/right back
Club history: 2005-2008 Newcastle Jets, 2004 Balestier Khalsa FC (Singapore), 2003-2004 Parramatta Power, 2001-2003 Sydney Olympic
Hyundai A-League statistics: 40 matches for the Newcastle Jets (debut v New Zealand Knights, Auckland, August 27, 2006).

Biography: A hard-working and decisive defender, Durante was the rock of the Newcastle Jets backline. His leadership and work ethic helped the Jets to the 2008 Hyundai A-League title and he was named the Joe Marston Medal winner as best on-field in the 1-0 grand final win against the Central Coast Mariners. While Durante is yet to represent Australia, he was named in Socceroos- coach Pim Verbeek-s World Cup training squad.

Date of birth: September 21, 1982 in Brisbane (25 years)
Height, weight: 1.86m, 82kg
Playing position: Central defender/central midfielde
Club history: 2005-2008 FCU Politehnica Timisoara, 2003-2005 FC National Bucharest, 1999-2003 Brisbane Strikers
Representative history: 2004-2006 Australia senior team (12 caps), 2004 Australia under-23, 2001 Australia under-20
Hyundai A-League statistics: To debut with Wellington Phoenix

Biography: An extremely talented defender and midfielder, McKain joins the Phoenix from FCU Politehnica Timisoara in the Romanian Liga 1 competition, where he also played for National Bucharest. He has represented Australia 12 times at senior level and made three appearances at the 2005 Confederations Cup in Germany. McKain also represented Australia at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.