Wellington Phoenix are sweating on the fitness of two key players ahead of their first game of the A-League Women season after they suffered injuries while on international duty with the Football Ferns.
Midfielder Grace Wisnewski was denied a possible debut for New Zealand after tearing her calf muscle in training prior to Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to South Korea, the injury cutting her first Football Ferns camp short.
Forward Emma Rolston, who has been plagued by ongoing back issues, started the match at Christchurch’s Orangetheory Stadium, but she lasted less than 15 minutes and had to be replaced.
The injuries have created fresh headaches for Phoenix coach Natalie Lawrence, who is already without her captain for Sunday’s season opener against Melbourne City at Sky Stadium – the team’s first-ever home game.
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Wisnewski, a New Zealand under-20 international, was a regular starter for the Phoenix last season, while Rolston was one of the club’s big off-season signings, returning to New Zealand after recent stints in Germany and Norway.
Wisnewski flew home to Wellington to begin her rehabilitation immediately after sustaining her calf injury and Lawrence said the 20-year-old would be given every chance to prove her fitness for Sunday after surprising the club’s medical staff with her recovery.
“She’s built differently,” Lawrence said. “That’s a quote from Suzy [Falconer], our physio. She’s actually going to go out and try some running and kicking today. She’s massively ahead of schedule.
“When we first got the report back it was looking like quite a few weeks but now she is working super, super hard.
“We are being sensible. It was a little tear in part of her calf. But she is confusing everyone with how well she’s presenting.
“Suzy our physio is working her as hard as she can to see if she can be available this weekend.”
Football Fern Emma Rolston makes ‘unexpected’ return home to play for Wellington Phoenix.
Lawrence said she planned to travel to Christchurch for the Football Ferns’ second match against South Korea on Tuesday night, where she hoped to find out more information regarding Rolston’s condition.
Rolston has remained with the Football Ferns and was scheduled to return to the capital on Wednesday, but Lawrence said she was in the dark whether she would play the second game against South Korea.
“We’re waiting to hear how Rollo is,” Lawrence said. “We know with her she just needs to be managed a bit with her back so I don’t really see any major concerns there, but we’ll catch up with her.
“I’m heading down there today so I’ll catch up with them today or tomorrow but I imagine everyone is feeling fine.”
If Wisnewski was not cleared to face City, it would leave the Phoenix two central midfielders down against a tough opponent, with returning Australia under-20 rep Isabel Gomez, the other starting central midfielder from last season, already ruled out of the first round with a foot injury she suffered during the pre-season.
Captain and goalkeeper Lily Alfeld will also miss at least the first three rounds after undergoing minor knee surgery, while Lawrence said another player, whose identity she would not disclose, was in doubt due to concussion.
”Izzy won’t be [available] she’s got a bone bruise on her foot and so she probably needs a couple of weeks and then we’re waiting on one other that is recovering from a concussion, but it could be too soon for her this weekend.”
Phoenix players Betsy Hassett, Paige Satchell and Mackenzie Barry managed to get through the Football Ferns’ first game against South Korea unscathed, while Kate Taylor, due to lead the Phoenix in Alfeld’s absence, was not part of the matchday squad.
Hassett played the full 90, Satchell was withdrawn at halftime after coming back from a recent operation, and Barry got seven minutes at the end.
Lawrence said the Phoenix would get their Football Ferns back on Thursday, giving them three training sessions as a full squad before their first game.