PREVIEW: Auckland United to face six-time champs in women’s season opener

By Joan Grey

Auckland United welcome Canterbury United Pride to their newly-renovated Keith Hay Park for their Women’s National League season opener on Sunday.

Auckland United are top contenders for the national title, based on their form in winter.

They claimed this year’s Lotto NRFL Women’s Premier League title, boasting the tightest defence of the league, conceding only 13 goals in their 14 games.

Main photo: Auckland United, champions of the north. Photo: Andrew Skinner / Phototek.

Their opponents, Canterbury United Pride, represent the Mainland Football Federation, which spans the Canterbury, Marlborough, and West Coast regions of the South Island.

Their squad is dominated by Christchurch players with 12 from Cashmere Technical and six from Coastal Spirit.

Historically, Canterbury United Pride have been a formidable force and have won the national title six times, most recently in 2020.

However, last National League season, they struggled to keep up with dominant Auckland teams and won only six of their 14 fixtures.

Questions to be answered

With only nine rounds of competition, both teams must hit the ground running.

Auckland United have lost three of their leading players from the winter season, in midfielder Chloe Knott (27), defender Marisa van der Meer (21) and attacker Ruby Nathan (17).

Knoff and van der Meer have re-signed with the Wellington Phoenix, after playing half a dozen games for United between A-League seasons, while age group international Nathan has joined A-League club Canberra United.

Chloe Knott and Marisa van der Meer are farewelled by Auckland United teammates before returning to the Wellington Phoenix. Photo credit: Auckland United.

Auckland United head coach Ben Bate has missed the final preparation for the National League, being in Tahiti as an assistant coach with the New Zealand U-16 women’s team.

Will losing key players disrupt the side’s start to their National League season?

Sunday’s clash is also a litmus test for Canterbury United Pride.

Forging a team to represent a region can take time for them to gel — Pride’s slow start to last season was an example.

How quickly can they start to play as a unit?

This will be critical, and how they stand up to this tricky first game will offer a good indication of their prospects for the rest of the National League season.

Player to watch

Auckland United have added Japanese midfielder Yume Harashima (26) to their squad as a replacement for Ruby Nathan who has joined Canberra United for the new A-League season.

READ MORE: Age group international Ruby Nathan signs for A-League club Canberra United >>>>

Harashima captained Japanese Nadeshiko 2 club Tsukuba last season.

Bold prediction

I think Auckland United’s strong form will continue on Sunday and I will pick a 2-0 victory in their favour.

Auckland United squad

Goalkeepers
Amberley Hollis, Aimee Hall

Defenders
Talisha Green, Jess Philpot, Greer Macintosh, Chelsea Elliot, Kate McConnell, Suya Haering

Midfielders
Yume Harashima, Maisy Dewell, Danielle Canham, Maya Vince, Penny Brill, Manami Nishio

Forwards
Bree Johnson, Shannon Henson, Rene Wasi, Alexis Cook, Emmeiln Bowala, Poppy O’Brien

Canterbury United Pride squad

Lainey Altieri-Need (US College Soccer), Jonelle Arthur (Cashmere Technical), Chloe Bellamy (Cashmere Technical), Amber Bennett (Cashmere Technical), Petra Buyck (UC Football), Nicola Dominikovich (Cashmere Technical), Lisa Evans (Cashmere Technical), Ellena Firth (Coastal Spirit), Lily Fisher (Cashmere Technical), Una Foyle (Coastal Spirit), Whitney Hepburn (Coastal Spirit), Maddie Iro (Cashmere Technical), Darsha Keogan (Coastal Spirit), Sara Mann (Cashmere Technical), Lottie Mortlock (Cashmere Technical), Anna McPhie (Nelson Suburbs), Britney-Lee Nicholson (Coastal Spirit), Alison Noniewicz (US College Soccer), Aimee Phillips (Cashmere Technical), Charlotte Roche (Cashmere Technical), Meg Simpson (Otakaro/Coastal Spirit), Lara Wall (Cashmere Technical).

Staff

Alana Gunn(head coach), Lee Padmore (assistant coach), Bailey Jordan (goalkeeper coach), Sheree Lapslie (manager), Sam O’Neil (strength & conditioning coach), Mike McCorkindale​​​​​​​ (physio).

How to watch

The game will be one of the first Women’s National League games to be live-streamed under the new content partnership between NZ Football and FIFA+.

READ MORE: ‘Gamechanging’ deal to provide more live-streaming of football than ever before >>>>

Fixture

Game to be played on Sunday September 24, 2023

Auckland United v Canterbury United
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill, 2pm

Joan Grey

Friends of Football writer Joan Grey loves playing and writing about football. She plays football for Franklin United.

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