Wellington Phoenix need to sign more New Zealand players

OPINION: Wellington Phoenix need to overhaul their squad with New Zealand players next season in an attempt to reconnect with disillusioned supporters.

Right now the Phoenix are doing nothing to silence the critics, like former A-League coach John Kosmina, who have called for the club to be axed from the competition.

The support is waning and it is sad that football fans on this side of the ditch are questioning the Phoenix's existence as well.

Bottom of the table with just three wins in 19 games, coach Darije Kalezic's first season in charge could end up becoming a season wasted unless by some miracle they overturn an 11-point deficit and qualify for the playoffs.

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But would it be wasted if the squad was brimming with young Kiwis who were being developed for the future? 

Forget the results and Roy Krishna's uncertain future, the biggest issue with the Phoenix this season is their reluctance to sign New Zealand players. After all, the Phoenix is New Zealand's only professional football club and Kiwis should be the core of it.

But that is not the case currently. Of the 11 most used players this season, only four of them are Kiwis and just 10 of the 23-man squad are actually New Zealanders.

Developing young New Zealanders should be the club's No 1 priority - even if the squad will be weaker for the few games that clash with international windows.

Instead, we are seeing more and more All Whites look to the slightly brighter lights of Major League Soccer, with a record number of Kiwis set to ply their trade in the United States this year.

When the Phoenix last hosted Sydney FC, the loudest cheer of the game came when Sarpreet Singh, one of Wellington's most promising young players, rocked the crossbar from long-range.

Sports fans have this fascination with producing the next big thing and Singh's cameo was one of the few occasions where there has been genuine excitement about the team this season.

In a league with too many journeymen, it is the young stars who provide the spark - Melbourne City's Daniel Arzani this season and Phoenix product Marco Rojas in seasons gone by are prime examples.

Which is why it is such a shame that a player of Singh's potential has been restricted to just 77 minutes of game time this season. 

After that Sydney game, one fan who was attending his first Phoenix match was asked whether he would consider coming back. His response was an increasingly common one: "maybe if there were more Kiwis".

There are plenty of New Zealand internationals who should have been Phoenix players by now, including national team regulars Clayton Lewis, Stefan Marinovic and Bill Tuiloma, who in various stages during the past few years have waited for a chance to establish themselves as first team pros.

Tuiloma recently revealed that the Phoenix never approached him during the few months when his future at Portland Timbers appeared uncertain. That is hard to comprehend as it would have been a positive move for both parties. The same goes for Canterbury United defender Francis de Vries, who is not an All White yet but played USL alongside many of them in 2017, and is currently without a professional contract.

After beginning the season with a no-Kiwi policy that was clear to see - contributing a record-low two players to the All Whites squad to face Peru - Kalezic revealed that just being a New Zealander was one of the main reasons the club decided to sign Monty Patterson on loan from Ipswich Town.

So maybe the tide is turning.

But with 15 players off-contract, the Phoenix have a chance to completely overhaul the roster next season and filling it with local players will give the supporters a reason to feel connected to the team again.

It has been welcome sight to see Wellington schoolboy Liberato Cacace given a chance in recent weeks as it sends a message to other youngsters that the Phoenix can provide a viable pathway but there needs to be more.

 - Stuff