Panamanian Reunion In Wellington

While the build-up to the Wellington Phoenix’s first home game of the Hyundai A-League against Sydney FC at Westpac Stadium tomorrow has been centred on Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero, two young Panamanians may make a little history of their own.

While the build-up to the Wellington Phoenix-s first home game of the Hyundai A-League against Sydney FC at Westpac Stadium tomorrow has been centred on Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero, two young Panamanians may make a little history of their own.

The odds against it happening would have been astronomical but Ricardo Clarke and Yairo Yao could tomorrow make their debuts in Wellington on opposite sides.

Clarke, 19, is on loan from Sporting San Miguelito to the Wellington Phoenix as an injury replacement for Dani Sanchez, while Yao, who played alongside Clarke at Sporting, is in his first season with Sydney FC.

While Clarke is likely to start on the bench he is hoping he and his countryman will end up on the field together.

“It is amazing something like this could happen,” Clarke said after the Phoenix-s final training session at Westpac Stadium today.

“Yairo is a good player and I am looking forward to seeing him again.”

With very limited English, it has been an interesting two weeks for Clarke since he joined the Phoenix but he is enjoying the experience.

“This team is like a family and all the boys have helped me a lot,” he said through Sanchez who was interpreting.

“Playing here is a real challenge for me and one I am looking forward to.”

Clarke is one of several forward options coach Ricki Herbert will have at his disposal this season, along with Paul Ifill, Jeremy Brockie, Benjamin Totori, Stein Huysegems, Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd.

With Ifill still not match fit after sustaining ankle and knee injuries in a pre-season game Totori, Brockie, Huysegems and Fenton are likely to start. “Fenton, Brockie and Totori are all different to what we had before,” Herbert said.

“With Leo (Bertos) and Lockie (Tony Lochhead) being attacking fullbacks we will have a lot of pace out wide.

“We-ve been counter-attacked a lot in the past, but I now think we have the players who can do the same effectively for us.”

Herbert said the club was in a transitional period with a Football School of Excellence having been set up less than six months ago.

“It will take a little time for some of the youngsters to come up, but already some of them are looking likely.

“Louis (Fenton) is infectious,” Herbert said. “Every week he does everything right and his work levels have been incredibly high.

“We now have players such as Ifill, Clarke, Totori, Boyd and Fenton who are more than capable of changing games because they all offer something a bit different.

“Throw Stein (Huysegems) into the mix and it is exciting.”

Herbert is extra keen to make a winning start against Sydney FC with the club having to take on Melbourne Heart in Australia next week without their All Whites and Totori (Solomon Islands) who will all be away on international duty at World Cup qualifiers.

With the FFA refusing to give the Phoenix dispensation for the Heart game they will go in without both goalkeepers, Mark Paston and Glen Moss, as well as Leo Bertos, Ben Sigmund, Tony Lochhead, Jeremy Brockie, possibly Michael Boxall and Totori.

It means young FSE players will need to step up, and while Herbert knows that is a tough ask he is philosophical.

“That will be a difficult one, and one you could debate and ask why we have to play a weakened team in a FIFA window, but it has been put there and we have to do our best,” he said.

“Can you imagine what it would have been like had we not started the FSE?

“We would have had to bring in players from an amateur environment where they only train twice a week. That would have been even tougher.”

Before that however there is the little matter of Sydney FC, Del Piero and all, to take care of.

“Del Piero has added a bit of spice to the game from a profile point of view but we can-t afford to concentrate on him,” Herbert said.

“We have to look after his team-mates. If we do that it will limit the supply of ball to him.”

Herbert will not name his team for the game, which kicks off at Westpac Stadium at 7.30, till tomorrow afternoon.