Wellington Phoenix head coach Ernie Merrick describes the signing of Costa Rican international striker Kenny Cunningham as a major coup for the A-League club.
Merrick today confirmed that Cunningham had signed a two-year contract with the Phoenix, and said that his arrival would be a big step forward for the club.
Cunningham was a starting member of the Costa Rica side in the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup, and has helped his country to second place, behind the United States, in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying series.
The top three from that series qualify for the 2014 finals in Brazil with the fourth-ranked country playing off against the All Whites for a place in the finals.
Costa Rica are ranked 39th in the world with New Zealand 55th and Australia 40.
“From the outset I said I wanted an attacking player who can come in from the wing and get into goal-scoring positions,” Merrick said.
“It had to be someone with pace who has a credible footballing background.
“Kenny Cunningham ticks all those boxes. He is very pacey and plays in the Costa Rican national team as a first eleven choice.
“It is a major coup for the Phoenix to attract such a player.”
Merrick said Cunningham, 28, first came to his attention through fellow Costa Rican Carlos Hernandez who has joined the Phoenix this season.
“We got on to him initially through Carlos and he was keen to come over and play for the Phoenix in the A-League,” Merrick said.
“Carlos knowing him personally was a bonus because it gives us information on his character which is very important as we want to sign players who are not only good on the field but are the right fit off it as well.”
Merrick did extensive research into Cunningham’s playing background and was impressed with what he found.
“I’ve watched him on DVD playing several matches for his club, and when someone is already playing at international level you know they are a good player,” he said.
Merrick said acquiring Cunningham was a major step forward but there was still need for more depth within the squad.
“We have some really experienced players in the club but need to bring in younger players to get the age balance right,” he said.
The recent signing of New Zealand under-20 captain Luke Adams was a step in that direction and there are other young players trialling with the club at present.
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