Wellington Phoenix have signed Solomon Islands striker Benji Totori for the 2012/13 A-League season.
The 26-year-old was part of the Solomon Islands’ recent Oceania Nations Cup campaign in Honiara and he has agreed a one-year deal with an option for a second.
The small but pacy striker scored in every match he played in the Nations Cup, including three goals in two games against New Zealand, who are also coached by Phoenix boss Ricki Herbert.
He helped the Solomon Islands to a 1-1 draw against the All Whites in pool play and scored twice in the last-gasp 4-3 victory over Herbert’s side in the third-placed play-off.
“He is very fast. He is very good with the ball at his feet. He’s got a great finish as we saw at the Nations Cup,” said Phoenix general manaer David Dome.
“We also think he can potentially do a good job for us being a potential target man and holding the ball up and bringing others into play. There are a number of potential options for Benji. He can either be out wide or up front by himself.”
Totori, who had a stint with the Portland Timbers in the United States in 2008, has been a prolific goal scorer for ASB Premiership teams YoungHeart Manawatu and Waitakere United in the New Zealand domestic competition in recent years.
“Ricki’s been looking at him for a while,” Dome said. “He’s been around and about the New Zealand football scene for a bit.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on him at YoungHeart and Waitakere. But I think his form at the Nations Cup was what sealed it really for Ricki. He had a pretty good Nations Cup all round really.”
He joins Paul Ifill, Alex Smith and Dani Sanchez as the Phoenix’s import players but his signing will be a massive breakthrough for Pacific Island players who have struggled to force their way into A-League contention. Solomon Islands captain Henry Fa’arodo has previously played for Perth Glory. Totori is the first Pacific Island player signed by the Phoenix.
“Most A-League clubs have dismissed the O-League and Oceania in general in terms of players,” Dome said. “We think there’s huge potential in that area. We think there could be a number of very good players in Oceania that we want to look at.
“We’re keen to own that space. We’re the only club in New Zealand so why can’t Oceania been a feeder region for the Phoenix as well.”
Totori’s signing all but confirms Chris Greenacre’s permanent shift to the coaching staff.
The Englishman had a dual player-coaching role last season.
“We’re negotiating with Greenie now in terms of his position at the club. We are looking at Greenie to maybe be in an assistant coach role,” Dome said. “He sees the potential in that and the ability to take his career to the next level.”
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