Wellington Phoenix 2022/23 Season Preview

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Wellington Phoenix will play their first full season at home since the 2018/19 A-League Men campaign. Can they use this as extra fuel to take that further step and win their first title?

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Last season…

A-League Men: 6th 

Finals: Elimination finals

They’ll win the league because…

Over the last few seasons, they have shown promising signs. Having spent the last two seasons living and playing in Australia, they went on to record a seven-match unbeaten streak from the middle of January to the start of March this year. The Phoenix showed that they can perform even without the attendance of fans at their home venue. Even though they have gone through yet another bit of a tweak to their squad, most of the key players involved in their good run last season remain. 

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The likes of Oli Sail, Tim Payne, Scott Wooton, Clayton Lewis, David Ball and Ben Waine are all ready to fire up again. They’ve also brought in some top quality and talent to help bolster their attack, with the signing of All Whites winger Kosta Barbarouses and former Wolfsburg striker Oskar Zawada, making up for the departures of Reno Piscopo and Jaushua Sotirio. 

Adding to this strong attack, there are youngsters such as Ben Old and Sam Sutton, who both had a strong second half to the season with Old picking up his second international cap off the bench against Australia in Auckland. This only points the Phoenix in an upwards direction. Head coach Ufuk Talay re-committed to the club mid-way through last season, showing that the Nix believe he is the right man to keep leading this side to where they want to be. 

They’ll be cellar dwellers because…

Even though the Phoenix have been fighting for the top six in the last few seasons away from home, they could find their homecoming a bit more difficult.

First of all, they have lost a few key players from their squad over the last couple of years with Reno Piscopo and Jaushua Sotirio both joining Newcastle Jets at the conclusion of the 2021/22 season.

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These two have been key to the squad, particularly last season, where they played 11 of their 13 home games in Australia due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Talay believes that his side are very motivated for success in their first full home season since the 2018/19 campaign, but other teams will be looking at this and wanting to put a bit of pressure on Talay and his team. 

The Nix will also want to improve their backline this coming season, as they were the worst defensive team in the league last time out. Now that Wooton will be entering his first full season with the Wellington-based side, that should provide some experience and stability. But with only youth players as cover, the Phoenix will be hoping that they don’t suffer any serious injuries at the back. 

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Talk around the water cooler…look smart in front of your colleagues with this valuable piece of information

Last season’s Phoenix top goal scorers were loanee Gael Sandoval, Jaushua Sotirio and Ben Waine with six goals a piece. It’s the lowest amount of goals scored by one player in one season in the Nix’s A-League Men’s history.  

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The off-season brought

Strength.

Wellington have done well to keep most of their key players from the previous season’s impressive run away from home, while also adding some fire power up top. Head coach Talay and star players Sail, Payne, Clayton Lewis and Waine are all back for another season. The gaps left by the now departed Piscopo and Sotirio have been filled by Barbarouses and Zawada, with Kraev providing some depth in the attacking department.

All of the key young players from last season including Finn Surman, Sam Sutton, Nicholas Pennington and Oskar van Hattum have stuck around to fight against the big boys.     

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Key player

Ben Waine.

It’s a difficult one to pick. But he was one of the top goal scorers in the Phoenix during the 2021/22 season. He is also the club’s youngest goalscorer for the Phoenix ever when he netted his first goal at age 18 and 145 days. He was rotated in and out of the Nix’s starting XI last season. But with David Ball out till at least December, this could present Waine with a superb opportunity to show Talay what he can do. 

One to watch

Finn Surman.

The 19-year-old centre-back was called into the senior squad part way through last season due to an injury crisis for the Phoenix. He made his debut in their Australia Cup round of 32 win over Western United and became a starter for the second half of the season, putting on some brilliant performances at the back. At the start of this year, Surman signed his first professional contract with the Nix after an impressive first half season with the  team. 

He also captained New Zealand’s U19 side at the OFC U20 World Cup qualifiers in Tahiti where they won all their games, securing their spot at the FIFA U20 World Cup, which will be held in Indonesia next year. All of New Zealand’s young footballers will be watching Surman as an inspiration that dreams can come true.

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Considering this time last season, he was playing for Phoenix’s reserve side in Wellington’s Central League competition – he will now be a certain slot into the Phoenix’s backline.

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Ins: Kosta Barbarouses (Sydney FC), Bozhidar Kraev (FC Midtiylland), Yan Sasse (América-MG), Steven Ugarkovic (Western Sydney), Oskar Zawada (Stal Mielic), Luca Mauragis (Newcastle Jets on loan)

Outs: Reno Piscopo, Jaushua Sotirio, Gary Hooper, James McGarry, Luis Toomey, George Ott, Louis Fenton, Gael Sandoval (end of loan), Matthew Bozinovski (end of loan)

Full squad list

Goalkeepers: Oliver Sail, Alex Paulsen

Defenders: Scott Wooton, Joshua Laws, Finn Surman, Sam Sutton, Luca Mauragis, Callan Elliot

Midfielders: Alex Rufer, Tim Payne, Clayton Lewis, Steven Ugarkovic, Nicholas Pennington, Bozhidar Kraev, Yan Sasse 

Forwards: Ben Old, Oskar van Hattum, Kosta Barbarouses, Ben Waine, David Ball, Oskar Zawada 

Feature image credit: Speed Media/Icon Sportswire

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Nick Jensen
Nick Jensen
Journalism Student at Massey University Wellington and a passionate Football Fan, covering the Wellington Phoenix Men and Women for the 2022/23 season.

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