With genuine marquee signings arriving at three clubs in A League mark 8, Australian soccer fans have never been so excited about the domestic scene. Even the Euro-snobs have come out of the woodwork to claim allegiance to Sydney FC with their Italian international Alessandro Del Piero.
The season will kick off tonight at AAMI Park when Melbourne Heart take on Melbourne Victory. The Melbourne derby has only existed for two seasons but has quickly risen to ‘most anticipated regular season match‘ status. Of the six fixtures between the teams it’s Heart 2, Victory 1, and 3 draws. But this season’s opener is set to be a one sided affair. The men in blue look a safe bet to snatch the three points, and if I were a betting man, I’d be putting a lot of money on them.
Adding to the excitement this season is another new A League club. The Western Sydney Wanderers are the latest addition to the burgeoning competition and are probably the wisest choice for an expansion club since the A League went from 8 clubs to 10. Of three expansion clubs two have gone by the wayside, those being Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury. Many Australians would agree that the Gold Coast is notorious for chewing up sporting franchises and spitting them out. In short, the Gold Coast is a tourist mecca and the locals just won’t show up. North Queensland however, were unlucky. They had poor results on field but with marquee star Robbie Fowler on board the club managed to attract respectable crowds considering their on field failings. But when owner Don Matheson realised he couldn’t survive with the continued financial losses, FFA were reluctant to provide ongoing support to the club, and put a line through them prior to the 2011/2012 season. Wests though are sure to get plenty of support on account of the team being located in the soccer heartland of Australia. Adding to that is the fact western Sydney is the most populace region of the country. Bingo! As stated in a prior blog I firmly believe this club will dwarf Sydney FC within four to five seasons, and in ten years it will have as big a following as Collingwood in the AFL or Canterbury in the rugby league.
Lets move on to the brief season preview and some daring predictions.
Melbourne Heart: New manager, inexperienced manager equals interesting situation. Best attacking asset, Eli Babalj has been sold to Red Star Belgrade equals even more interesting. Weighing up these two issues I can’t see the red and white half of Melbourne figuring in the top six this season. 10th.
Newcastle Jets: The team from the Hunter region has strengthened in the off season with some great acquisitions at the back. Scott Neville from Perth Glory and Craig Goodwin from Melbourne Heart give the Jets some speed on the ground and in transition. Up front they have marquee signing Emile Heskey along with Griffiths and Bridges. Another good signing is Gold Coast’s James Brown but it’s the midfield which raises questions. The Jets are probably a work in progress as these comments from manager Gary van Egmond indicate, “A lot of good young players have come to our club. Obviously we have one eye on this year but also one eye on the A-League down the track.” 3rd
Adelaide United: John Kosmina is back at the helm after the sacking of Rini Coolen last season. Can’t see much happening at the Reds. Coolen was sacked because the Reds were deemed as dull and plain disappointing, but Kosmina has been rather pragmatic in his approach also. The only difference is his liking for blooding youngsters. Geronimo Neumann looks like a good signing in midfield but it’s not enough. 9th
Sydney FC: New manager Ian Crook was assistant at Sydney FC last season. Now he gets his chance, but without creative midfielder Nicky Carle. Like a rabbit out of a hat though the club from the big city got their bling back. Triggering a domino affect Sydney signed Alessandro Del Piero. Who should suffice for the loss of Nicky Carle and add four to five thousand extra fans. Along with ADP, Sydney have Brett Emerton to nurture the youth at the club. Expect 20 year old Mitch Mallia to benefit the most. The loss of Beauchamp and the inconsistency of Pascal Bosschaart signify problems at the back. 4th
Brisbane Roar: Rado Vidosic takes over at the defending champions. He’s no stranger as he was assistant at Lang Park last year. After winning two titles in a row its a tough assignment for Vidosic but while Roar were great to watch there was an element of predictability about them. The ‘we must play out from the back’ philosophy was persistent but also dangerous as the Roar found out when taking on Japan’s FC Tokyo. The midfield looks exciting with the addition of Gold Coast’ Ben Halloran, alongside regulars Broich and Nichols. Truly mouth watering the champions will be their again with their stability at the back and the irrepressible Berisha. 1st
Melbourne Victory: Ange Postecoglou enters the hot seat. The club with all the expectations now has the manager who steered Brisbane to the last two titles. But will Ange try to replicate exactly what he did at Brisbane? In reference to that question Ange replied “. . . if you do that then we will finish second.” Victory fans should be happy to hear that, because the losses of Kewell and Hernandez along with the fact Archie Thompson and Danny Allsop won’t be getting any quicker, mean Postecoglou will have his work cut out for him. The positives for Melbourne are that Marcos Flores has arrived along with Mark Milligan and Adama Traore. However, there still seems to be some weaknesses at the back. 7th
Perth Glory: Manager Ian Ferguson saved his career last season by taking the Glory to the deciding match after an indifferent start to the season. Like the manager himself Perth have a steel about them at the back with the likes of Heffernan and Pantelidis. In addition to the intimidation at the back there is the acquisition of Michael Thwaite (Gold Coast) with his passing and reading of the game. Liam Miller is back in midfield and they have an exciting prospect in Ryo Nagai from Cerezo Osaka in the J League. While there are no notable changes up front it’s no loss with the A League’s most plunderous striker Shane Smeltz joined by Billy Mehmet and Travis Dodd. They are genuine contenders. 2nd
Central Coast Mariners: Central Coast are flying below the radar as per usual. All of Australia is anticipating the next phase of Tom Rogic’s career. Can he deliver on the potential he showed in his debut season? Manager Graham Arnold is confident of unearthing some more young gems this season including Mitchell Duke. The club with the penchant for developing youngsters will be hoping defender Patrick Zwaanswijk is able to educate the youngsters at the back and in quick time. It’s doubtful that will happen and it’s doubtful the Dutchman can replicate his performance last season. 6th
Wellington Phoenix: They keep punching above their weight with so much against them. The black and gold have been successful due to their unified playing group and it seems thats a vital ingredient in such a tightly contested league. Dani Sanchez provided some Spanish creativity last season and he’s back aboard while key acquisition Jeremy Brockie is back in his homeland and showing great signs in pre season matches. Also making headway was youngster Louis Fenton who manager Herbert referred to as a possible goal outlet, “If we can add a little bit of a different dimension to the goal-scoring department, our season will be better still,” 5th
Western Sydney Wanderers: With no history the Wanderers have been put together in a rush. Japanese midfield genius Shinji Ono is the marquee signing and adds some international interest to the club whose focus is stated to be provided opportunities to local players. The western suburbs of Sydney has been a rich source for elite soccer talent (Harry Kewell – Tony Popovic etc.). Local boy and former socceroo Tony Popovic will manage the side in his first stint as gaffer. The well travelled former defender has earned his place at the helm and no doubt his connections with the J League had something to do with Ono’s recruitment. With a solid mix of youth (Mooy, Appiah Kubi) and experience (Ono, Beauchamp, Covic), Wests have shored up the backline (Topor Stanley & Beauchamp) which any team promoted or setting out on a new venture is well advised to do. When pressed on expectations Popovic said, “We can’t guarantee results of course, but I can promise you in the first instance that we will be competitive against Central Coast in round one. Western Sydney people will see a united group of players fighting for each other.” 8th