By ADAM SERRANO
The nation of New Zealand may be considered an afterthought by many at this summer's World Cup, but if the Kiwis are going to advance out of their group in South Africa, the play of a number of MLS veterans will be vital to the squad's success.
The first real test of the year for the Kiwis came on Wednesday when New Zealand fell to Mexico 2-0 in front of a capacity crowd of 90,526 at the Rose Bowl. The match saw MLS Veterans Andrew Boyens and Simon Elliott going 90 minutes in the New Zealand loss. In front of an boisterous crowd, the Kiwis were able to keep the Mexicans off the board in the first half with an impressive defensive performance, frustrating Mexico and the thousands in attendance.
"We were very compact and kept the shape very well particularly in the first half," said Boyens. "For long periods of time, we were defending very well, but unfortunately got caught out of position for a ten minute period in the second half."
The New Zealand defense was broken in the 53rd minute when a moment of brilliance from Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez put El Tri up for good with a leaping header off a Carlos Salcido cross. The Mexicans struck again several minutes later in the 57th with a thrilling Carlos Vela goal as the Arsenal striker caught the Red Bulls defender Boyens out of position for the score. Despite the loss, the All Whites received praise from their head coach Richard Herbert at the end of the night.
“For us it was about trialing players and we had practically a new back five out there, but the match has given us what we needed and given us plenty of ideas moving forward," said Herbert. "Four years ago, we couldn't beat teams in island countries and now here we are in front of 90,000 putting up a great fight in front of a top squad."
One aspect of this renewed success is the number of members of the Football Ferns who have been played in MLS. In addition, to the three kiwis who currently ply their trade in MLS, New Zealand Captain Ryan Nelsen is perhaps the most famous kiwi veteran of Major League Soccer after his four years at D.C. United. The San Jose Earthquakes' Simon Elliott, a veteran of 60 caps for the Oceania nation was quick to emphasize the importance MLS will play in the nation's success at the World Cup.
"In terms of playing teams like Paraguay who we have in the World Cup and Mexico, you definitely get used to playing the Latin technical style by playing in MLS due to the number of Central and South American players in the league," said Elliott. "By playing in America, it allows me be become familiar with that 'tocka-tocka-tocka' quick passing style that the Latinos have, so hopefully understanding this manner of play will help us going into South Africa."
As the Kiwis prepare for the World Cup, their is little moment of reflection on just how far the All Whites have developed in the past year. However, Boyens a veteran of 15 caps, who was on the subs bench for New Zealand's most infamous defeat against the island nation of Vanuatu, the prospects for South Africa are high.
"We weren't fazed despite being up against a very good side tonight," said Boyens. "I believe that if we can keep playing steady like we've been playing lately, then we'll be a dangerous team which will be in a ever game that we play."