Ahead of tomorrow’s official fixture release, there were major announcements at three clubs today, with Wellington Phoenix revealing their new head coach, Perth Glory adding a new hot-shot to their pack, and Brisbane Roar welcome back another of last season’s squad. Impetus’ Ben Gilby hears from the players and coaches involved (12/9/22).
Above: Nat Lawrence – last season’s assistant will take over at the Phoenix this season. Artwork: Wellington Phoenix.
Lawrence Steps Up As Lewis Returns Home
Inaugural assistant Natalie Lawrence is stepping up to take over as head coach of the Wellington Phoenix for the upcoming Liberty A-League season.
Lawrence is replacing Gemma Lewis, who is returning home to Wales to take up the role of senior pathway manager for women’s football.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to take charge of the Phoenix and one that I can’t wait to start,” Lawrence said. “Having been part of the team last year and seeing them grow, to now be able to bring the team back to New Zealand and play games in Wellington, which I definitely consider to be my Kiwi home, is incredibly exciting.”
Lawrence moved to New Zealand 11 years ago, having started her coaching career in her native England.
“As soon as I got to Wellington in 2011 I was like, “I should have been born here, this is definitely my home’.
“Being able to walk out with the team in that first game at Sky Stadium is going to be something special for me personally and all the players involved, whether they were involved last season or not. It’s going to be outrageous.
“The World Cup’s just around the corner, women’s football is buzzing here and around the world and to be part of it at this level of the game in what I consider my home away from home is something you kind of dream of.”
On top of serving as Lewis’ assistant at the Phoenix, Junior Football Ferns and the Future Ferns Domestic Programme (FFDP) over the past two years, Lawrence boasts extensive head coaching experience.
She worked for Capital Football from 2012-2015, coaching Capital in the national women’s league before moving to Vancouver to lead the Whitecaps’ women’s academy programme.
Lawrence returned to her home away from home in 2018 when she became the first female head coach of a men’s national league side when she took charge of Team Wellington’s youth team.
“I have been Gemma’s assistant in quite a lot of projects but how we work together is really collaborative.
“We work together so closely on everything and I think that will really help me going into this role, as well as the heading coaching experience I’ve had previously.”
Natalie Lawrence will move to Wellington next week, with her first task to appoint her assistant coach.
“Gemma will be massively missed amongst the staff and the players, and we’ll try and do her proud this season,” Lawrence said. “But we’re really excited for what she’s going to be doing in Wales.”
Gemma Lewis has been appointed the senior pathway manager for women’s football at the Welsh FA, who are also giving Lewis the opportunity to study for her UEFA Pro Licence.
“Being able to work in women’s football in Europe right now is huge and the opportunity to do my pro licence as well is something that was a big pull for me,” Lewis said.
“The cherry on the cake is I get to return home. I’ve been away from Wales for nine years.
“The opportunity to do all that and go home and spend a bit more time with my family all rolled into a package that was too hard to turn down.”
But the former Welsh international will leave New Zealand with a heavy heart.
“As much as I talk about going home, I’ve spent a third of my life in New Zealand. It’s difficult to leave. New Zealand has turned into my second home.
“I would have loved to do a second season with the Phoenix, but the timing didn’t really work out.”
Lewis will still take a keen interest in the team’s progress.
“The team that is being built is one that I’m really excited to watch and see how they get on.
“Nat stepping into the head coaching position is a really good decision. From all of my work with her and seeing how good she is with the players, I’m really excited to watch a season with her in charge and see what stamp she puts on the team.”
Wellington Phoenix general manager David Dome has thanked Lewis for her contribution to the club.
“Gemma will forever be our first women’s head coach,” Dome said.
“She did an incredible job putting a team together at short notice for our inaugural A-League women’s season and ensured they were competitive on the field while playing the entirety of their season in Australia.
“Gemma has a great opportunity to develop further as a coach in Wales and she leaves with our best wishes.”
The Phoenix are convinced Lawrence is the ideal person to take over the reins.
“Nat came across really well when we interviewed her. Her beliefs align with what we want to achieve as a team and a club,” Dome said.
“We have no doubt she can step up into the head coaching role and we look forward to seeing what the team can achieve under her leadership.”
Natalie Lawrence’s first game in charge of the Phoenix will be revealed tomorrow, when the draw is scheduled to be announced for the 2022-23 Liberty A-League season.
Epakis Welcomes “Powerhouse” Striker Coleman
Perth Glory today announced that American forward Gabriella Coleman has been signed for the 2022-23 Liberty A-League Season.
The 24-year-old has most recently been plying her trade in Iceland with HK Kopavogur for whom she scored nine goals last season, having previously been a standout performer at collegiate level for both Mississippi State and Oklahoma State University.
Glory’s new recruit boasts an impressive sporting pedigree, with her father Marcus having enjoyed an 11-year NFL career which saw him represent the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, and Houston Texans and earn All-American and Hall of Fame honours.
Coleman is excited to be joining Glory for what will be her first taste of Liberty A-League football.
“I’m really looking forward to coming to Perth Glory and contributing to a team that embodies some of the same soccer philosophies that I share,” she said.
“Speaking with Head Coach Alex [Epakis], I believe that this is a great opportunity for me to grow as a player, while hopefully helping the team achieve success as well.”
Epakis believes that Coleman possesses all the attributes required to make a major impression during her maiden season in purple. “Gabriella is a powerhouse player,” he said.
“An attacker who is very strong in open space when she is running at defenders, she also offers the flexibility in her game to link play up and play with her back to goal. She is a further excellent addition to our attacking options and someone whom I believe can add a level of physicality and speed to our overall balance within the squad.
“Gabriella is very hungry and determined to do well and has a fantastic growth mindset which became clear during our early conversations. I’m very excited to work with her.”
The club will be making further signing announcements in the near future.
Haffenden Back At Brisbane
Brisbane Roar has bolstered its defensive stocks with the signing of young gun Annie Haffenden for the 2022/23 Liberty A-League season.
The 20-year-old will return to Brisbane for her second season having made 13 appearances for Garrath McPherson’s side in the most recent campaign.
Having only joined the Roar on the verge of the 2021/22 season, Haffenden was a breakout player having made the most of the opportunity afforded to her.
“It was amazing to get that opportunity, I owe a big thanks to Garrath and the coaching staff for providing it. I was able to develop a lot and I’m really excited to get out there this season and be on the pitch as much as I can,” she said.
In all 12 matches she started, Haffenden was able to play the full 90 minutes, cementing herself as a key member of the Roar squad. Playing those minutes provided the Alamein junior with valuable first-team experience that she will be looking to build on in the upcoming campaign.
Since the Roar’s season ended in March, Haffenden has experienced a whirlwind offseason, spending time with Swedish side Vaxjo DFF.
“It was really eye-opening with the speed of play. It was crazy to be a part of but it taught me to be adaptable both on and off the pitch, adjusting to a new environment and playing styles but I’m excited to build on what I learned over there as well as with the Roar,” she said.
Haffenden also caught the eye of the national team, taking part in the Australian U20’s camp in New Zealand.
“It was an unbelievable experience and I was grateful to be a part of that international tour. I learned a lot in that environment as well and it’s something I don’t take for granted.”
Now back on home soil, Haffenden is eager to reunite with several familiar faces in the Roar squad.
“I’m so excited to be back with the Roar this season and back with the girls. We gained a lot of momentum towards the back end of last season and we have so much potential as a group so I’m excited to get going because we have some unfinished business,” she said.
Roar’s Head Coach Garrath McPherson was pleased to be able to re-sign Haffenden for the upcoming season.
“I am looking forward to having Annie back in Brisbane this season and excited that she has committed to us for another year of her development,” he said.
McPherson is eager to see the defender continue her development in the upcoming Liberty A-League season after the progress she showed in the 2021/22 campaign.
“To think that 12 months ago Annie was an 11th-hour recruit for us as an 18-year-old is remarkable,” he said.
“She has this hunger to learn and improve that is very unique. This mindset and approach to her football saw her continue to improve with every week and by the start of pre-season she was an A-League Women starting centre back.
“Fast forward a year and Annie has been involved with an Under 20 Australian camp to New Zealand and gained overseas experience in Sweden as a professional footballer.
“Fans should be excited to see where she is in another six months time!” McPherson added.