The Wellington Phoenix have been undone by Western United’s American imports in their second round Liberty A-League match at Sky Stadium.
The competition newcomers have beaten the Phoenix 4-1, with World Cup winner Jess McDonald, and fellow countrywomen Sydney Cummings and Hannah Keane scoring all of their goals.
The Nix were level at 1-1 at halftime after defender Marisa van der Meer cancelled out McDonald’s second goal in as many games.
It remained level until the 71st minute, when Cummings headed home from a corner, before Keane added a quickfire brace to put the visitors in command.
Phoenix head coach Natalie Lawrence acknowledges Western’s imports were the difference.
“It’s hard because of the experience they have,” Lawrence told media post-game. “You know Jess McDonald has won a World Cup! I don’t know how many other players in the league have won a World Cup.
“I thought Mickey Foster did an amazing job against her today, but she just showed her experience in big moments, Hannah Keane the same.”
Wellington don’t have any visa players as they would come at the expense of a New Zealander.
“As much as we’d love to have the equity in restrictions that everyone else has and be able to have as many Kiwis and Aussies as we want and have international players, that’s not excuse.
“Hopefully that’s something we can build towards in the next few years whereas right now we’re trying to develop our Kiwi and Aussie players.”
While disappointed with a second straight 4-1 defeat to start the season, Lawrence says the result “feels a little bit different” to last week.
“A couple of [goals from] set pieces are quite easy fixes. In possession we did some really, really good stuff and that’s the brand of football we want to create.
“Right now we’re being getting punished by top players that are very experienced and pouncing on our mistakes.
“Set pieces that’s mine and Callum’s fault. We need to work better on those so we’re not conceding. We can’t give goals away like that.
“We were having chats about what are we going to change to win this game and then you lose two corners pretty quickly one after another and it just takes the sting out of things. But we’ll continue to grow and learn as the games go on.”
A couple of nasty-looking injuries may rub further salt into the wound. Van der Meer was on crutches after suffering an ankle injury in the second-half, while midfielder Chloe Knott suffered a potential broken nose late in the match.
Natalie Lawrence made one personnel change and a couple of positional switches to the XI which started last week’s season opener. Michaela Robertson returned from concussion to start in midfield, with Foster dropping back to left fullback and van der Meer switching to right back in place of Zoe McMeeken.
Western United, who beat reigning champions Melbourne Victory on debut last week, started the better of the two sides.
The visitors headed narrowly over the bar from a corner in the eighth minute and moments later Ava Pritchard had to produce a great block to deny Keane a shot from a dangerous position.
The Phoenix threatened on the break in the first quarter of an hour, with Robertson in particular prevalent down the left flank in her professional debut, but the team struggled to produce the final pass to unlock the Western defence.
McDonald, the scorer of the Western’s goal against Victory last week, gave the competition newcomers the lead in the 16th minute. McDonald steered home a Keane cross from six yards out after the Americans pounced on a mistake from the Nix defence.
Van der Meer drew the Phoenix level midway through the first-half, looping a header over Western United ‘keeper Hillary Beall after the visitors were unable to deal with an in-swinging Foster corner.
Foster showed her defensive qualities shortly after Wellington’s equaliser, producing a crucial block to deny McDonald her second goal in the 26th minute.
Western came closest to breaking the deadlock before halftime from corners, rattling the crossbar and shooting over the bar.
They looked the more likely to score after the break too, with Brianna Edwards forced to make a sharp save in the 54th minute to deny Keane.
The experienced American striker was dangerous throughout the contest and 10 minutes later curled a warning shot wide of Edwards’ right-hand post.
With the game in the balance the visitors were able to bring on Matildas midfielder Chloe Logarzo, who came close to putting Western ahead in the 70th minute. Only some great last-ditch defending from Mackenzie Barry denied Logarzo an opportunity to shoot from six yards out.
Western grabbing the lead from the resulting corner, with Cummings coming forward from centre back to direct a header the back of the net.
Keane scored twice in a handful of minutes to give the visitors a three goal cushion.
She toed in her first from close-range in the 77th minute after the Phoenix were unable to clear a corner and then produced a thumping header in the 82nd minute after getting on a end of a pinpoint Emma Robers cross.
The Nix were forced to play out the last half a dozen minutes with just 10 players after Knott suffered a nasty head clash, but they continued to push forward in an attempt to score a second goal.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, with the Phoenix falling to a second 4-1 defeat in a week.
The Wellington Phoenix play their third Victorian club in as many weeks next Sunday when they leave Aotearoa for the first time this season to play reigning champions Melbourne Victory in round three.
Wellington Phoenix: 12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk), 3. Kate TAYLOR (c), 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 5. Marisa VAN DER MEER (17. Claudia CICCO 65th), 7. Chloe KNOTT, 9. Ava PRITCHARD (19. Charlotte LANCASTER 72nd), 10. Alyssa WHINHAM (2. Saskia VOSPER 85th), 11. Betsy HASSETT, 13. Paige SATCHELL, 14. Michaela ROBERTSON (20. Milly CLEGG 65th), 21. Michaela FOSTER.
Unused substitutes: 22. Georgia CANDY (gk).
Western United: 21. Hillary BEALL (gk) (c), 2. Stacey PAPADOPOULOS, 8. Jessica MCDONALD, 9. Hannah KEANE, 10. Kahli JOHNSON (7. Francesca IERMANO 79th), 11. Emma ROBERS, 15. Adriana TARANTO (6. Chloe LOGARZO 56th), 16. Melissa TARANTO (24. Julia SARDO 86th), 19. Tyla Jay VLAJNIC (4. Jacyln SAWICKI 79th), 20. Sydney CUMMINGS, 22. Alana CERNE.
Unused substitutes: 1. Alyssa DALLOSTE (gk).
8. Jessica MCDONALD (Western United) – 16th
5. Marisa VAN DER MEER (Wellington Phoenix) – 23rd
20. Sydney CUMMINGS (Western United) – 71st
9. Hannah KEANE (Western United) – 77th
9. Hannah KEANE (Western United) – 82nd
20. Sydney CUMMINGS (Western United) – yellow – 40th
22. Alana CERNE (Western United) – yellow – 58th
5. Marisa VAN DER MEER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 62nd
2. Stacey PAPADOPOULOS (Western United) – yellow – 90+4