With the new A-League season right on our doorstep, with Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets cutting the ribbon tonight at Allianz Stadium, there is a great level of anticipation for what lies ahead.
Here are five things that A-League fans should watch out for over the coming months as the season transpires.
1. Will the Wanderers have second-year-syndrome?
The boys from Western Sydney were merely expected to win a handful of matches last season as they entered the competition. Instead they proved the critics wrong and sent shockwaves not only through football right across the country but through Australian sport. They went on to claim the Premiers’ Plate and made the grand final in their opening season to complete what was undoubtedly the fairytale story of Australian sport for the year of 2013.
Now the big question they must answer is whether they can back up that form in their second term in the A-League? There have only been a couple of changes to their roster, with fan favourite Dino Kresinger leaving the club as the most notable departure, whilst Socceroo Matthew Spiranovic signs on as the club’s latest addition in defence. With very little change to the roster and the form they showed last season, they have what it takes to challenge again. They are now the hunted instead of the hunter.
2. The Jets to fly into the top six:
A youthful and energetic Newcastle Jets squad will be a much tougher proposition for opposition this time around after a tough year last season. They will be much better for the experience and with a large portion playing in Turkey throughout the off season for the Young Socceroos in a World Cup campaign; the Jets players will have that extra edge of quality. The likes of Josh Brilliante, Craig Goodwin, Connor Chapman, Adam Taggart and Mark Birighitti, to name a few, will shine in the latest A-League instalment and should help to propel Gary Van Egmond’s men well into the top six this season.
3. The renaissance of Marcos Flores as a Mariner:
After a stellar solitary season in the city of churches with Adelaide United where he was named the winner of the Johnny Warren Medal, Marcos Flores had a contrasting second season in the A-League with the Melbourne Victory. An inability to recapture the form he established in Adelaide compounded with a handful of niggling injuries, and Flores was a shadow of his former self. He found it difficult to settle into Ange Postecoglou’s set up at the Victory, which was notorious for success at his former home in Brisbane. In turn, Flores was released from the final year of his contract and Mariners’ manager Graham Arnold has pounced. The relaxed environment of the Central Coast, as well as being out of the beaming spotlight of Melbourne may instigate the revival of this naturally gifted midfielder. With the loss of Bernie Ibini in the Mariners’ attack, he may well slot right into the Mariners set up. And don’t be surprised if he Florishes.
4. The Rise of the Phoenix across the ditch:
With former Melbourne Victory manager Ernie Merrick at the helm, the Wellington Phoenix may well find themselves off the foot of the table by season’s end. The two-time A-League championship winning manager knows what it takes to claim the infamous “toilet seat”. With the reunion between Merrick and former Victory marquee midfielder Carlos Hernandez, the once stale Phoenix outfit may be as fresh a side as any in the competition. It is fair to say that the playing group lacked any real energy and enthusiasm under former manager Ricki Herbert and maybe a case of inertia crept into the coaching and playing staff because the longevity of Herbert’s stay at ‘The Cake Tin’. Merrick on the other hand will now add a much tougher approach to the Phoenix and will add the tonic they have needed for some time. Don’t be shocked if they make a serious play for a finals’ berth by season’s end.
5. Kewell back in the frame for a ticket to Rio:
Harry Kewell is back in the A-League. However, in the theatre that is football, he has traded the navy blue of the Melbourne Victory for the red and white stripes of rival club Melbourne Heart. In the process, he has linked up with former Socceroos teammate John Aloisi who is in charge of the Heart. This could be the shot in the arm that the veteran Socceroo needs after a season away from the game due to family issues. There is a sense that he is a fresher and more eager for the challenge that lay ahead of him at the Heart than his initial move to Australia’s premier football league. Maybe it is working with a younger playing group and helping them learn. Or maybe it is working with a great friend and a player he shared many great Socceroos’ memories with back some seven years ago. With his new environment and a beaming grin on his face, Kewell may well find himself on a plane to Rio in June next year as he makes a last play to wear the green and gold.