Big pre-season needed for Southern United women

Pre-season will be a little more vital than normal for Southern United’s National Women’s League team this year.

The side will play just six games, rather than the 12 of the past two seasons.

That comes after the league was cut to a single round, due to the impacts of Covid-19.

It leaves little time to work into the season, and hitting form early will be crucial. That is made all the more difficult by alack of preseason games.

Its only option is Canterbury United, but that is its opponent in the season opener on the weekend of October 31.

The side may look to play some boys’ teams as an alternative.

Southern coach Ignacio Sande, now in his third year with the side, said the lack of build-up was a major challenge.

He said it often took three or four games for the side to gel. When it only played six games, that posed a major challenge.

However, Sande said the team recognised the reason for it.

While it was not ideal, the team was grateful it was able to play at all, as a few months ago there was uncertainty whether the league would even go ahead.

‘‘We have been training with the squad. Everything’s very positive,’’ he said.

‘‘We’re pleased we have the opportunity to play football at this crazy moment.

‘‘So we’re pleased for that and we’re doing our best to make sure we can perform.’’

The team had retained the majority of its players, although its losses were key ones.

Last year’s captain, Mikaela Hunt, has moved to Christchurch.

Key midfielders Shontelle Smith and Kirsty Hayr are also missing, as are the goal keepers from last season.

Sande admitted they were big losses, although it was also an opportunity for the younger players to fill bigger roles.

The likes of Amy Hislop and Ruby Anderson had taken big steps last year.

Meanwhile, Rose Morton, a star newcomer who missed all but one game through injury last year, was almost anew signing in that regard.

There would be a handful of new faces too, although Sande said the squad had not yet been finalised.

He was yet to appoint a new captain, although he said the hole Hunt left was a big one.

‘‘It’s going to be a big loss for us.

‘‘She was pretty much leading the team the last two seasons and her performance was always outstanding.

‘‘But it’s a challenge that can be an opportunity for other players to step up and take that responsibility.’’

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