A Season to Capitalise

This weekend the 2013/14 A-League Season gets underway and something I can say this year, which I couldn’t until last year was that I am legitimately excited. As I have written about before, the 2012/13 season was a massive success for the FFA and the A-League in what was a make or break year, due to the TV rights deal ending and being up for negotiation.

The combination of the marquee signings around the league being a hit as well as the development of a number of Australian (and NZ) players led to the league being more interesting and certainly more watchable than ever before.

This season is the season after the breakout and in a lot of ways it is as important as last year. The league needs to show that it actually turned a corner and became the league it is going to be, as opposed to a one off year that will simply be remembered fondly when looking back. If this coming season is much the same as last year, or potentially even better, the A-League will really have arrived as a league to be taken seriously on the world football stage, as well as a league to be taken seriously as a football code here in Australia.

The A-League is never going to be the EPL. It is never going to be truly elite and will never be the place for Australian players looking to develop into top players to stay. But it can certainly be an entertaining league where young Aussie players showcase themselves, older Aussie players return and foreign players take seriously.

It can definitely be what the MLS has become in the US. There are plenty of bigger names who head there later in their career, players looking for a break and of course the development of local talent. The MLS also has developed a very sustainable and hardcore fan base and now isn’t really considered a bit of a joke as it once was.

So with this year being a year to capitalise and push on from last year’s success, let’s take a look at the 2013/14 A-League Season.

Fox Sports have handily provided a page detailing the changes to the playing rosters so we can see just who looks to have headed in which direction.

A lot of reports suggest that many consider Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar to be the highest rated teams this year, suggesting the West Sydney Wanderers and Central Coast Mariners may have slipped a little.

In terms of the Wanderers I tend to agree. That is not to say the Wanderers won’t be good, but I think a lot of what they managed last year will be very difficult to replicate and therefore I expect them to regress purely because they overachieved last year. They have brought in Tomi Juric and Dean Heffernan who will add value, but I think the loss of Joey Gibbs hurts as he is a real prospect up front and is a very good signing for Newcastle. It will also do Gibbs the world of good to learn from Emile Heskey. Matthew Spiranovic just recently signed up and he is a huge signing for the Wanderers, so their defence will be interesting to watch as Spiranovic attempts to push for a World Cup spot.

The Wanderers will still rely a lot on Shinji Ono and Aaron Mooy to create, but there’s no reason to think they won’t do the job expected of them.

The Mariners have lost a lot of players as you can see on the link earlier. The question is whether the players who have joined can pick up that slack. Marcos Flores certainly fits that bill as he is a legitimate star of the league. Matt Simon also returns to the A-League and is a proven performer. The Mariners will also be reliant on new defensive signing Marcel Seip doing the job previously done by stalwart Patrick Zwaanswijk.

The hype around the Victory and Roar makes sense too. Whilst the Victory have lost stars in Flores and Rojas, as well as the solid Billy Celeski, coach Ange Postecoglou has recruited very well. Mitch Nicholls re-joins his old coach from Brisbane and after an Italian experience to forget James Troisi is a big coup, as he also looks to secure a spot in the Socceroos side in Brazil. Pablo Contreras is also a big signing if he has much left at 35.

The Roar haven’t lost too much after a disappointing season last year. The signing of Liam Miller is big and a team including Miller, Thomas Broich and Besart Berisha is always going to be dangerous. But with everyone expecting a bounce back year from the former champs, the pressure and eyes will be on them to deliver.

Sydney FC are also expected to improve this year after just scraping into the finals last year. With this probably the final year that Del Piero will play for the Sky Blues they will need to make the most of the opportunity. They have signed pretty well and have quite a deep team now. A case can be made for several different line-up options being their best 11, but one thing that matters is that Terry McFlynn needs to be nowhere near the first team.

McFlynn is now no longer captain and if he is prominently involved then Farina will have gotten a lot wrong. They simply have too much depth now to be playing the worst player in the entire league in such a crucial midfield role.

Melbourne Heart have signed Harry Kewell, which is the big news, but their other signings could end up being much more important. Orlando Engelaar unfortunately broke his leg already but the club have now signed Malta captain Michael Mifsud. I remember watching him back in his Coventry days and it will be interesting to see how he goes for the Heart.

Newcastle have a team I love watching. Their attack involving Heskey, Virgili and Goodwin is brilliant to watch and now they also have Nathan Burns and Joey Gibbs. Their chances will rely heavily on whether new signing Kew Jaliens will improve their defence, but I’ll be watching a lot of their games. I love Craig Goodwin.

Perth have made a lot of changes, but the main thing I’ll be watching is young gun Daniel De Silva. This kid could be anything and has the potential to be our best prospect since Cahill and Kewell. I just hope he gets enough playing time to showcase his talent and maybe even be recruited by a big European club.

Wellington have signed Carlos Hernandez who will be a big recruit for them. The only question is whether the big in the previous sentence ends up relating to his performance or his actual weight. If he is fit and ready to go he is capable of anything. Also of interest is Ernie Merrick taking over the coaching job from All Whites coach Ricki Herbert.

I finish with Adelaide and honestly I’m not particularly excited by them. Bringing in Michael Zullo could be good for them and for his chances at making the Socceroos, but most of their other signings are ones that we need to judge on performance as I simply know nothing about them. I don’t expect that much from Adelaide this year, but if their signings prove to be master strokes, that certainly could change.

At the end of the day all that matters is that the quality of the matches lives up to last year as opposed to who is winning those matches. As a Sydney FC fan I am hopeful the Sky Blues send ADP off with a fairy tale finish, but overall for the A-League what is important is capitalising on last year and cementing themselves as a high quality league worthy of the interest of the Australian public.

I can’t wait until kick off.

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