SOUTHLAND Football officials have a hectic couple of weeks ahead of them as they try to put together a competitive South Island football league team.
A 90th minute match-winning goal by Japanese import Hayato Wakino ensured Ascot Park Hotel Southland United picked up a thrilling 3-2 victory over Queenstown in Queenstown on Saturday, June 9. The win ensued Southland United will finish in the top three of the Southern Premier League, and that has earned the team a spot in the inaugural South Island league starting on June 30.
Southland United coach Luis Paiva was proud of what his players had achieved, especially after they had to deal with setbacks on the way to qualifying for the eight-team South Island competition.
Southland Football sought out overseas players in the lead up to the season to try and put the team in the best possible position to qualify.
It included the introduction of three Japanese players and two Americans, who travelled to New Zealand with the hope of impressing to push for a spot in a New Zealand league team.
However, four of those players departed when it came to the crunch stage of the Southern Premier League after they struggled to find work in Invercargill.
“We obliviously can’t afford to pay the players, so we try to find them jobs and have everything in place for them when they get here. But it didn’t quite work out,” Paiva said.
It has left Southland United with a squad of about 12 players. Paiva believed they would need a strong squad of about 16 or 17 players for the South Island league.
“We don’t have the depth at the moment,” he said.
Southland Football officials are now looking into ways they can bolster the squad to ensure they can put up a strong showing in the South Island competition.
It includes looking at whether some leading players in Southland’s Donald Gray Cup competition, who haven’t been able to commit to the Southland United team previously, may now like to step in and line up in the South Island league.
They will again look at overseas options, but Paiva said to give themselves the best chance of landing quality players, they would need buy-in from the entire football community.
Paiva said they needed to be certain the players had jobs while they were in Invercargill, and help in general to make their stay as comfortable as possible.
Southland United has dipped into the club’s under-18 team this season, but Paiva was wary of asking too much of the young players in the South Island league.
“We don’t want to chuck the kids in with the lions.”
The draw has not yet been confirmed for the league.