The reigning national champions of Papua New Guinea have recently been involved in a series of incidents that have drastically changed the team’s structure and history: Lae City achieved success through the leadership of head coach Peter Gunemba, who counted on players such as Nigel Dabinyaba, Ronald Warisan and Raymond Gunemba – Lae City won the last five editions of the PNG National Soccer League.
However, after a bad campaign in the 2020 OFC Champions League, Lae City chairman Ian Chow decided to sack coach Gunemba and replace him with Bob Morris. The move enraged fans and players alike, with a number of players leaving the team, including their stars Dabinyaba and Raymond Gunemba. Of the victorious Lae City team, only a few players remained in the squad, the most famous of them being Papua New Guinea internationals Emmanuel Simon and Jacob Sabua.
In order to strengthen the squad after this turbulence, Chow brought a number of players into the club, the most famous of whom are defenders Alwin Komolong and Felix Komolong, both with national team experience. The Komolongs have played football in the United States college system; Alwin played in the German professional football league and Felix Komolong has played in New Zealand’s top league and also in Lae City’s rival Hekari United. The other top-signings of Lae City for the remaining of the season are also part of the defensive system: the goalkeeper Charles Lepani and the defender Nigel Malagian – and the Papua New Guinean international Philip Steven is also in the squad since the start of the season, another central defender.
With Simon, Sabua and the team’s only two foreign players, Ecuadorians Gustine Icaza and Abdias Aguirre, in midfield, the only problem for Lae City seems to be in attack. With Gunemba and Dabinyaba having left the club, there are few options for new head coach Bob Morris in attacking positions. The best of these options at the moment seems to be the young Albert Morgan Jr., who has already scored three goals in the current PNG National Soccer League season; another recent signing from Lae may also come in handy at this time – Alu Awi has also scored for the reigning national champions this season.
If any team wants to score goals in Lae City, it will not be easy because of the quality the club has brought to its defensive system. Although the quality in the back and in the middle of the park is not a problem, Lae can only rely on very young players in attack, who are still far from the level Dabinyaba and Gunemba had in their golden age for the club they just left.
Lae City will expect to continue their winning streak of national titles when the PNG National Soccer League returns to action this August after the break due COVID-19 pandemic. The club currently is the 2nd in the ladder of the national league sitting behind the surprising Vitiaz United.