2023 World Cup: Why Mackenzie Barry deserves a spot in the New Zealand squad

Mackenzie Barry of Wellington Phoenix passes the ball.
Mackenzie Barry of the Phoenix passes the ball during the round 10 A-League Women's match between Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

With the countdown to the 2023 World Cup ticking down, fans have been eagerly refreshing social media, waiting for the announcement of their nation’s 23-player squad.

A player outside of many predictions for a spot on hosts New Zealand’s squad, is Mackenzie Barry — a player predicted to have a 20 percent chance of making the final team by Andrew Voerman. But Barry’s stellar season for the Wellington Phoenix should stand to demonstrate how she can’t possibly be a player overlooked for the upcoming tournament.

Formation and what Mackenzie Barry can offer

The Football Ferns appear to be entering the World Cup with the plan of using a 4-4-2 structure of play that they like to stretch wide across the field. Despite the notion that women’s football is made up of wider tactical styles than their male counterparts, New Zealand has taken this to the extreme in recent friendlies, looking to use the entire width of the field throughout every phase of play.

Spreading out players in this manner creates a situation in which each of the 10 outfield players are required to shut down their opposing matchups in often 1v1 scenarios. A facet of play that Barry has been proven to thrive in. Playing as either a right-back or centre-back in Wellington’s system, Barry has consistently shut down opposing threats throughout the entire season. She has achieved first place in tackles, blocks, and clearances in the recent A-League season.

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Barry also demonstrates a great ability to cover her fellow teammates, loving to sweep in behind to defensive line to cover any potential mistakes or through-balls (70 percent of her tackles coming in the defensive third). This ability also translates into Wellington’s offensive set-piece strategies often leaving her alone as the last defender back, a role she fulfills excellently through the use of her 1v1 abilities and great pace.

The Ferns’ spread-out nature combined with their 4-4-2 formation has a significant impact on the tactics that can be used in the offensive phase. It is harder for players to create link-up between lines due to their relative distance and the overall space each player is required to cover. While it’s normal to have the two central midfielders drop deep to pick up the ball from the defensive line, the previously stated constraints of the Ferns’ system make this a lot harder, and means that if the midfielders were to fulfil such responsibility, they would potentially be unable to support the attacking phase of player due to the distance that they would have to cover.

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Read more: Who will replace key players missing from the 2023 World Cup?

With this lack of midfield support, each player in the defensive four is required to pick up a lot more offensive responsibilities than normally required.

Barry is an excellent attacking defender. Being very adept at possessive positioning, and consistently being in a great position to receive passes, leading to her having the eighth most overall touches in the most recent A-League season.

While not being the most accomplished dribbler, only being credited with six successful take-ons in the past season, and 11 in her entire A-League career, Barry is an incredible passer of the ball. She has an 81 percent success rate on passes between 15 and 30 yards. This distance is also Barry’s favoured passing distance, with 54 percent of her pass attempts falling into this category.

Attacking creativity

One of the key targets that New Zealand will have to accomplish in order to have success at the World Cup, is to get right-winger, Grace Jale, into a groove early. Her form will provide a massive impact on their overall offensive production rate. Barry is also capable of significantly contributing to this objective.

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When playing on the right side of the defensive line, she has demonstrated a love for playing her partner into attacking positions, which in this system is likely to be the previously mentioned Jale. Having a facilitator and former teammate down the right side of the field could only serve to benefit Jale’s production, and therefore the whole of the New Zealand squad.

Despite having only 94 minutes of international experience across seven appearances, Barry should be a serious contender for the Football Ferns’ World Cup side. While not having a direct replacement in the currently assumed squad, Barry’s playstyle along with her confidence in playing multiple positions across the back four, means she is a perfect fit for the current tactical style played by the New Zealand team, as they hope to make a run into the latter stages of the upcoming tournament.

(All stats courtesy of FBref.com)

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