Lily Alfeld: Rising With The Phoenix

Above: Wellington Phoenix goalkeeper Lily Alfeld in training this season. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Wellington Phoenix via Wollongong Mercury.

Lily Alfeld, was the first player to sign for the new Wellington Phoenix club after they joined the A-League Women competition and was announced as their inaugural captain. For this week’s #MidweekDub feature, Lily spoke to us about her footballing journey, an impressive season at Perth Glory last year, and life at the Phoenix (23/2/22).

Alfeld first began playing football when she was five-years-old at home in Christchurch where she remained playing until she was 18.

“Then I was playing at U17s and U20s for New Zealand. In 2014 I went to the United States and played college football for Louisiana State University before coming back to New Zealand in 2018 when I trained with the Football Ferns domestic program before last year when I had the opportunity to go and play with Perth Glory in what was then the W-League.”

Above: Lily Alfeld playing for New Zealand at the U20 World Cup. Photo: Wellington Phoenix.

Perth was a tough place to be playing your football last season, but Alfeld shone as one of their brightest stars. The team only had the go-ahead to compete in the competition late on due to Western Australia’s covid border restrictions and so they put together a squad that consisted largely of talented local teenagers.

“It was good, but a huge challenge. It was my first professional gig and I’ve taken a lot of learning out of it. I didn’t really know what to expect. It was a big challenge, especially coming together late with so many youngsters – pretty similar to the situation we found ourselves in at Phoenix this year.

“It was a difficult season as there were so many experiences that we hadn’t faced before, but we took a lot from it. Alex Epakis was fantastic at guiding us through it and helping us find our feet in our first year of playing.”

Alfeld reveals that she came close to staying in Western Australia for another season: “I spoke to Alex about the possibility of staying on. I loved Perth and the club were fantastic. The Phoenix were in the back of my mind about that possibly happening. Alex did have another goalkeeper from Sydney (Courtney Newbon) who he was interested in signing, so in the end, we parted ways.”

This then led to the goalkeeper becoming the first player to sign for Wellington Phoenix’s women’s team with their entry into the A-League Women competition finally confirmed.

“There was no hesitation at all from me when it came to signing for the Phoenix. As soon as I heard the team were coming into the league, I was making phone calls! When the opportunity came to be their first signing, that was a huge honour.

“It’s huge – New Zealand’s first professional women’s team, it’s such a significant moment. I’d grown up watching the Phoenix. They were the one team that I grew up as a child watching and supporting. I always loved pulling on their shirt as a kid.

“I’ve known Gemma (Lewis – head coach) and Nat (Lawrence – assistant coach) for a few years and I knew it would be fantastic to play under them.”

Above: Lily Alfeld pictured after becoming Wellington Phoenix Women’s first-ever signing. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Wellington Phoenix.

Wellington Phoenix’s pre-season began with few players initially, with more joining at regular intervals once they had signed to the club.

“It was a massive challenge, but the staff managed it well and a lot of time was spent helping us to gel. The Kiwis and the Australians hadn’t met each other. A lot of work was done in terms of seeing how we all played and putting that together. With lockdowns in both Wellington and Sydney, a lot of players hadn’t played for a long time so there were a lot of yards covered in that pre-season to make sure we were up to running for a full 90 minutes in the Australian heat.”

With Wellington Phoenix unable to host home matches in New Zealand, the players and staff have all been in a hub in Wollongong, New South Wales, over 1,000 miles away from home. The Phoenix captain revealed what living with your teammates and coaches full time is like in reality.

“I’ve actually loved it. It’s pretty much like being on a school camp when you were a kid with your classmates with you all the time. It’s been a lot of fun. We are managing it carefully though. It’s not a normal thing to be in a camp like this where you don’t get to go back to your families and friends.

“We are making sure that we have our own individual downtime and getting out to do different things. We need to be conscious that it’s a lot of time to spend together. A lot of us, the Kiwis, had known each other for a long time, so that’s been good.”

Alfeld also spoke about her added responsibility as captain. “It’s awesome, a massive step up for me as I’ve never captained a team before, and it has been a massive learning curve. I’ve taken away new experiences and seeing what the demands are and what is expected of me. We have a fantastic support staff around us and a great core-leadership group. A lot of the girls have international experience, youth international experience.

Above: Lily Alfeld gets down bravely to save from Newcastle Jets’ Sunny Franco whilst playing for Perth Glory last season. Photo: Perth Glory FC.

“These girls bring different leadership characteristics and it’s been great to be able to learn from than and take different things from them.

“Being a goalkeeper, it is a juggling act between encouraging the players and wanting to keep a clean sheet. We’ve all got behind Gemma (Lewis)’s ideas of wanting to be brave in our play. In terms of our first matches, we started off well against Western Sydney, but I think we went into our shell a bit against Newcastle and it was good to see that if we are not brave on the ball, then we will get punished. Then against Sydney, it was a good indicator that if we are brave on the ball, we will find opportunities. That starts from us at the back as goalkeeper and centre-backs. We need to make sure we’re not just lumping the ball forward, actually building things up and creating our own chances.”

The Phoenix star then spoke about her own aims for this season. “It’s definitely putting in performances that can earn a clean sheet for the team. We want to win as many games as we can and that starts with me as we can’t lose if we don’t concede!

“I also want to grow into this captaincy role and refine my leadership skills to leave a positive legacy for this club going forward. It’s a massive opportunity and we have a chance to shape where Wellington Phoenix’s women’s team goes. We need to start off on the right foot and make a positive impact on where women’s football goes in New Zealand.”

In terms of wider aims for the Phoenix’s first A-League Women campaign, “If we can go out there every week and improve from week to week and take the learnings that we’ve taken from each game into the next, then I’d be over the moon. It’s a huge challenge for the girls to be expected to perform consistently each week, but I think it’s definitely our goal to go out there and build each week. We recognize that we are the underdogs, but if we can get some wins and upset a few teams then that would definitely be success in our book.”

A strong run of performances with the Phoenix has brought Alfeld to the attention of new national team coach Jitka Klimková and she has been in the USA with New Zealand competing in the SheBelieves Cup.

“International honours have always been my goal. I had a little bit of experience with the Football Ferns on national team tours in 2014 and 2019, but I hadn’t been in the mix since. I would love to get into the squad, and with a home World Cup coming in 2023 and the Olympics following that, if I can play well this season then hopefully I will get an opportunity. That’s the overall goal.”

Artwork: Graphics by PW.

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