Words: ACFC Media
Friday 25 March 2022
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland City FC's Northern League campaign starts in unfamiliar surroundings when Melville United pay a visit to Te Atatu on Saturday.
New coach Albert Riera has come through a stop-start pre-season and boasts a squad where half the players emerged from the club's National Youth League set-up.
Goalkeepers Conor Tracey and Cam Brown, All Whites defenders Sam Brotherton and Adam Mitchell, recently returned Christian Gray, Nathan Lobo and Reid Drake, U-23 graduates Kristoff Muller and Ilham Hameedi and midfielders Aidan Carey and Mario Ilich all won National Youth league titles at Kiwitea Street previously.
The signs are good for Riera who has deep respect for opposite number Sam Wilkinson.
"We're all very excited to start the season this Saturday. It's been a very good pre-season but a very long one at the same time.
"I believe all the players want to do is play competitive games.
"There's nothing better to play a league game and fight for the three points.
"We've been very focused on this game for a long time now. We know Melville United are going to be up for a battle and they'll come up here with a lot of energy.
"They are a very well trained, very well coached, young team. I know Sam has been doing a very good job at Melville not just in the first team but also in the Academy space.
"His influence is noticeable in the Melville United club and we know that makes them a very difficult opponent," Riera said.
HEADBAND GUY: Braedan Quilter-Phipps is one of a host of new faces in the Class of 2022 at Gower Park... pic.twitter.com/V5pbzNogRB— Melville United (@MelvilleUnited) March 16, 2022
Melville United made three key signings during the summer with John Oakman, Oliver Colloty and Braedan Quilter-Phipps joining Wilkinson's side.
“We’re delighted to welcome Oliver, John, and Braeden to Melville United for this season
“It’s a testament to the environment we are creating at Gower Park that top young players from outside the region are wanting to move to Hamilton for their football experience," Wilkinson said of the trio on the United club website.
The Hamiltonians also expected the return of Luke Searle and Sean Liddicoat from injury.
Also of note was the senior international debut of former Melville United goalkeeper Jamie Searle in the All Whites 7-1 World Cup Qualifying demolition of New Caledonia in Qatar yesterday.
The 21-year-old Searle played three games for Melville United in the 2018-19 season before signing for Aston Villa and then Swansea City, his current club.
The last time the two sides were scheduled to meet New Zealand entered a four month long lockdown as first Delta, then Omicron, wrought havoc.
Riera says its been nearly impossible to avoid the ravages of the virus but outlined the club's dedication to managing the reality of its impact on players.
"We've had a few players who have tested positive for Covid-19 and who remain isolated.
"But we're going to have 16 players ready.
"We always make sure that the players that are going to play are going to be healthy and ready.
"We always check their GPS stats to make sure they're fit.
"The players who return from isolation usually require an extra week to get ready and we prioritise that because we don't want to jeopardise anyone's health.
"In the long run it's very important for the health of the person, more than anything else.
"We recognise its also going to be a long season and we want to make sure everyone is fit.
"Unfortunately, Covid-19 has become a normal matter and we're not the only club to face that problem, its just what we have to deal with.
"We have players ready for this weekend and one of the main strengths we have in this squad is we have great depth and a lot of players that can come in and be ready," Riera said.
Cam Howieson and Brain Kaltak are both unavailable on international duty at the Oceania FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Qatar.
Ground advice and other fixtures
The Northern League action between Auckland City FC and Melville United gets underway at the Croatian Cultural Centre at 3.00pm NZDT.
Kiwitea Street clubrooms are currently under repair after a water leak in the dressing room and are expected to be ready soon.
Please note that with the facilities at the Croatian Cultural Centre booked out, there will be no official after match function.
In the Lotto NRLF U-23 Premier Division, Auckland City FC U-23s take on Melville United U-23s at Auckland Grammar School on Saturday 26 March, 2022.
The match is scheduled for a 12.00pm kick-off.
Saturday 26 March 2022
Auckland City FC v Melville United
Croatian Cultural Centre, Te Atatu
Kick-off: 3.00pm NZDT
AC (Players selected from): 1. Cam BROWN (GK), 2. Mario ILICH, 3. Adam MITCHELL, 4. Christian GRAY, 5. Angel BERLANGA, 8. Gerard GARRIGA, 9. Angus KILKOLLY, 10. Dylan MANICKUM, 12. Sam BROTHERTON, 13. Nathan LOBO, 13. Alfie ROGERS, 14. Jordan VALE, 15. Aidan CAREY, 16. Joe LEE, 17. Reid DRAKE, 19. Liam GILLION, 20. Emiliano TADE, 21. Ilham HAMEEDI, 22. Kristoff MULLER, 24. Cam BROWN (GK).
UNAVAILABLE: 6. Brian KALTAK (international duty), 7. Cam HOWIESON (international duty).
COACH: Albert RIERA
ASSISTANT COACH: Ivan VICELICH
GOALKEEPER COACH: Enaut ZUBIKARAI
MANAGER: Keith COTON
ANALYST: Adria CASALS
PHYSIO: Matt PAYNE
REFEREE: Hayden TUTBURY
AR1: Tanvir BHAMJI
AR2: Yunjie DIAO
NORTHERN LEAGUE - OTHER FIXTURES (All matches kick off at 3.00pm NZDT unless otherwise stated)
Takapuna AFC v Eastern Suburbs AFC
Hamilton Wanderers v Western Springs
Waiheke United v Manukau United
Auckland United v Birkenhead United
North Shore United v Bay Olympic
15.05.21 v Melville United (A) won 3-0 (Emiliano TADE, Angus KILKOLLY, Dylan MANICKUM)
21.08.21 v Melville United (H) Match Cancelled due to Covid-19 Lockdown
Sunday 4 December 2022, Wellington Olympic, Mount Smart Stadium