Phoenix gets OK to move to Australia, finish A-League season

SYDNEY (AP) — Wellington Phoenix, the New Zealand-based club in the A-League, says it has been given the OK to relocate to Australia to finish the season.

The A-League has been suspended since March 24 but is set to resume on July 16, with the remaining 27 games played over a 28-day period to make up for lost time during the lockdown for the coronavirus pandemic. A shortened playoff series will involve five games and the season will be over by Aug. 31.

The Phoenix players and coaching staff will travel to Australia on Saturday and go into two weeks in quarantine in New South Wales state, adhering to COVID-19 restrictions, before fine-tuning for their first match back against league-leading Sydney on July 17.

The soccer club is following the lead of the New Zealand Warriors, the rugby league club that went into quarantine in Australia before the NRL season restarted late last month. Australia and New Zealand have closed international borders but are considering a so-called ”bubble” to allow travel between the two countries

The Warriors plan to remain in Australia until travel restrictions are lifted, while Phoenix is likely to remain in Australia until the end of the regular season.

”Plaudits have to go to our players for their commitment to finishing out the season – they feel they have unfinished business and they can’t wait to go over there and rediscover that momentum we had back in March,” Phoenix general manager David Dome said in a statement Friday. ”With a full-strength, committed squad and the backing of New Zealand, there’s no reason we can’t secure a top three finish – and potentially a home semifinal in Wellington for the fans. That’s our goal and our supporters deserve nothing less.”

Wellington is in third place in the standings with 11 wins and three draws from 20 games, 12 competition points behind Sydney but only four behind second-place Melbourne City, which has played 23 games.

Soccer’s A-League is the last of Australia’s four professional football competitions to restart after the pandemic. The National Rugby League was the first to resume in late May, and the Aussie rules Australian Football League recommenced last weekend. The rugby union Super Rugby AU will kick off on July 3.

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