SOUTHLAND football is on the verge of qualifying for a new South Island league.
New Zealand Football last year revealed plans to launch a new league to boost interest and player pathways in the South Island.
The top three teams from Football South, which covers the lower South Island, and the top five teams from the Mainland League, which covers Canterbury and Nelson, will make up a new eight-team competition.
Eight teams from Football South are chasing the three spots available, with Southland United in a strong position to qualify with three games to play in the Southern Premier League.
The Luis Paiva-coached Southland United team currently sits tied on 10 points with Queenstown and Dunedin Technical at the top of the standings.
However, Queenstown and Dunedin Technical have a game in hand over Southland United.
Paiva believes 16 competition points will be enough to book a spot in the South Island league.
On that basis, Southland United will need two wins from its remaining three games to be safe.
“I’m not going to lie [the South Island league] is our goal, so if we can play well over the next three rounds hopefully we can get there,” Paiva said.
Southland United has the bye this weekend before an important showdown with Roslyn Wakari, which sits just two points behind Southland.
Southland’s leading football team has an international flavour to it this season.
Southland Football was able to encourage two Japanese players and two Americans to Invercargill to bolster its Southern Premier League team this year.
A German and an Australian player, who are studying at the Southern Institute of Technology, have also joined the team this season.
Paiva said they helped with accommodation for the international players, with the players themselves covering other expenses.
Enticing quality players from overseas was done to ensure Southland United could field a team in the Southern Premier League, and potentially the South Island league, he said.
“We do it for the young players in Southland. It raises the level of training because of [the international visitors] work ethic and standard. It just makes it a bit more professional, which helps improve our players.”
Southland United has also formed under-15 and under-18 teams this season to play in Football South leagues.
That was done done to help create clearer pathways for players through to the top-level Southland United team, Paiva said.
Southland United has also linked with Academy Southland this year to introduce three strength and conditioning sessions to its training schedule.
Those strength and conditioning sessions are on top of three on-field training sessions each week.
Paiva said the quest was to make the environment as professional as it could be, although with players holding down full-time jobs and study commitments he had to be wary of not pushing it too far.