Saturday, 28 December 2013

Alusine Fofanah - A name to remember

Image Courtesy of Quarrie Sports Photography 

I was asked recently to do a piece on a 16 year old from the Foxtel National Youth League team.

At the time I knew little about him but by the end of our chat I found it extremely difficult winding up as each question I asked left me wanting to know more about this humble, polite and intriguing young footballer.

The name would indicate that he’s not from these parts. In fact Alusine Fofanah’s journey just to get to his destination in Western Sydney is longer than most footballers twice or even three times his age.

Alusine is from Sierra Leone; a small country perched high on the western coast of Africa. It carries a dark civil war plagued history and like so many African countries is abundantly rich in gold and diamond deposits. However Sierra Leone still suffers with close to 70% of its population in poverty.

Uncertain of the future, his parents made the tough decision to leave their birthplace in favour of a better life and opportunity for their young family. The decision meant the arduous and brave journey to become refugees and move to Australia coupled with sacrifices that ordinary Australians would struggle contemplating.

Alusine’s parents left their son in his grandparent’s care for close to three years before they could all be together again.

From the ripe old age of six, Alusine’s love of the round ball began after watching the 2006 World Cup semi-final between Portugal and France. It was a young player by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo that caught his eye and implanted a footballing dream that has never been erased.

Alusine has worked tirelessly on his game ever since and continues to do that little bit more each day to realise his dream of living out a professional football life in Europe.

For now he couldn’t be happier living and playing in “the best country in the world” and being part of such a professional club at the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Unlike many players his age, Alusine’s talent was on show at the age of 14 after a successful trial offer materialised with English giants Manchester City last year.

The chance to impress could not have gone any better after converting six goals in two matches with the Under 18 squad. The difficulties with passports and visas saw the chance to part ways with his family too large a burden in the short term.
“The experience playing in Europe was quite surreal and at times I found myself pinching myself whilst trying to keep my feet on the ground”
“I understand I still have a plenty of hard work ahead of me but I am blessed to be working with such fine coaches like Tony Popovic and Trevor Morgan at the Wanderers.”
The biggest challenge that faced Alusine upon arrival to his new country as an 11 year old was the language barrier.
“I had to work extremely hard on my English and it made it that much harder to make friends.”
When asked who has been the biggest influence on his football journey to this point, the answer was heartwarming at the very least.
“I was lucky enough to meet to two great men in George and Tass Markos.
“These two gentlemen have helped support my family and I and continue to do everything in their power to make my life on and off the pitch as easy as possible.
“Their generosity is astounding and their ongoing advice and guidance has kept me grounded, out of trouble and I have matured since knowing them.”

Be sure to take note of this young man’s name, Alusine Fofanah, as he has the potential and drive to be anything in this great game but for now it’s all about the next game the opponent and becoming a better player each and every week.

Western Sydney Wanderers Website Link:

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Our reaction to the World Cup draw

Read the thoughts of our 32 World Cup Nation experts to their country's draw for Brazil.

James Clark 
"Not surprisingly Australia were drawn in a tough “Slow-Death" Group B with Spain, Chile and the Netherlands. The Socceroos have it all to do against the current champions and runners-up from South Africa 2010. On a positive note, we avoided Brazil and France. Fans can now look ahead to enjoying sangria, tapas, Pisco sours, and the odd Heineken with a slab of gouda as we struggle “Down Under” to rise early from our warm beds to take on the world’s best in Brazil."

Keeping it Real: Thomas Manos

After chatting with Thomas Manos you begin to understand how driven the sporting youth of today are.

His willingness to master every aspect of his game begins with his mental approach. Despite a small stature for a goalkeeper, Thomas displays leadership characteristics on the pitch that soon adds inches to his frame.
“I like to make up for my height disadvantage on the pitch by being loud and imposing by dominating the talk from the back,” the Western Sydney Wanderers number one explained."
“I may not have a large physical presence out there but if you watch the Wanderers play you will no doubt hear me communicating with the boys for the entire 90 minutes."
“It is one of my strengths that sets me apart from other keepers”
Since the ripe old age of twelve, Thomas’ love of protecting the eight-yard by eight-foot fortress began after a constant peppering from his cousin in the back yard. His tenacity eventually frustrated his cousin as he began saving more shots than his cousin could convert and so began his love of the glove.

A two-year apprenticeship at Jim Fraser’s International Goalkeepers Academy helped develop a technique that paired with a healthy enthusiasm and natural talent in defending the box.

Thomas’ steely determination to succeed in the football world was recognised last year as a worthy recipient of the Lucas Neill Scholarship. The scholarship helped open doors and allowed Thomas to travel abroad to experience how professional clubs like Bolton Wanderers approach their training regime.
“One thing you notice immediately is the intensity at each and every session."
“We would complete a series of keeping drill circuits lasting for three minutes that would leave you absolutely gasping for air and drain your energy reserves to empty.” 
On his return to the Red and Black Thomas was surprised at the huge gains in his mental approach and focus.
“The training is quite different in the UK with greater emphasis placed on fitness and intensity in sessions over technique.”
The experience has proved invaluable and has only strengthened his resolve in bettering his game.

Thomas is a young player who lives, eats and breathes football. So much so he has put off his University Criminology studies on the backburner for this year to focus solely on realising a dream of winning a Hyundai A-League contract. There is nothing else on Thomas’ radar other than the round ball, for the moment at least.

When asked who is the biggest inspiration in his career to date it was a definitive ringing endorsement to his father Bill.
“He is at all of my games and I love the chats we have in the long car trip home as we talk about what went right and wrong during the course of the match."
 “Together with goalkeeping coach Ron Corry, Dad is there every step of the way and helps in every aspect towards me achieving my football goals on and off the pitch.”
When asked what his ultimate football goal is Thomas isn’t shy in setting the bar nice and high, not unlike the crossbar he so often defends.
“No big deal but I would love to keep for Arsenal in the EPL!” 
Not surprisingly Thomas’ favourite players arguably the best keepers on the planet.

Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas is top dog as Thomas can draw comparisons with their similar height shortcomings.

Mat Ryan is a close second after a recent stint at the Central Coast Mariners opened his eyes to where he needs to be to cut it in the big European football leagues. Mark Schwarzer and Ante Covic round out the elite group.

Be sure to get out and experience tomorrow’s stars in the Foxtel National Youth League as they battle it out for a future spot in the Hyundai A-League. The Wanderers host Sydney FC this Saturday 14 December at Marconi Stadium with kick-off at 5pm.

Thursday, 5 December 2013 "World Cup Nation" Australia


James Clark

A devout follower of everything football from the burgeoning A-League in my native Australia, to the super powers of the Champions League, Premier League, and La Liga. I’m mocked by friends for an Antipodean life governed by Greenwich Mean Time. My football DNA cannot be altered, and I proudly wear my “night-owl” status as a badge of honour.


1. What round will your country reach?
Mixed feelings divide the Aussie football fan landscape but the general consensus is the Socceroos will compete strongly in Brazil. However we’re more likely to enjoy a chartered Qantas flight back across the Pacific and be back Down Under after the completion of the first round group stage.

2. Who does your country most fear?
Brazil or France After being on the wrong side of two damaging 6-0 “friendly” defeats to Brazil and France, we’re hoping to avoid either of these two super powers.

3. Who does your country most hope to draw?
We’d like a group with fence-sitters Switzerland, the spicy South American side Chile and our arch sporting rivals (and a team we’re currently taking the Ashes back from) England.

4. Who is your country's biggest grudge match?
Japan. Australia has a recent sporting rivalry with the “Blue Samurai” that escalated at the 2006 World Cup. That year the south-western German city of Kaiserslautern became a household name here, which rolled off the tongue as easily as Steve Irwin or Vegemite. The 3-1 victory over Japan is forever etched in Australian hearts and minds as it helped to galvanise a sports-mad nation to get behind football. It was also the day when Guus Hiddink received immediate Aussie citizenship rights.

5. What round will England reach?
In Australia the sporting exploits of the “mother” country barely rate a mention, however we love to celebrate your failures, whether it’s singing from the rooftops or behind a light plane in large letters. Many believe that under the guidance of Roy Hodgson, England have the ability to progress to the quarters or possibly the semis with a little rare luck. But England’s run will ultimately end in tears again, and re-open that raw World Cup wound that dates back to 1990.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Get to know: Jake McGing

By James Clark
Get to know: Jake McGing
Image Credit: Quarrie Sports Photography
When reading Foxtel National Youth League (NYL) Captain Jake McGing’s football CV you could easily be mistaken for thinking it was that of a player twice his age.

Jake first picked up a football at the age of five when his rugby league playing father and an over-protective mother signed him up for the local Eschol Park Wolves. From that moment the football has never been too far from his feet. 14 short years have passed and he has grown into a natural born leader of the Western Sydney Wanderers NYL side.

Representative honours soon followed and have shaped and dominated the McGing family’s weekend schedule ever since. His love of Futsal also helped develop and sharpen his talent in the larger form of the game.

It is obvious when speaking with Jake that football is a deeply rooted passion on and off the pitch. Any spare time away from the game is spent socialising with friends or nurturing his football brain via his FIFA 14 PlayStation console.

Jake has delved into a number of positions across the park over the years but has finally settled on the central-midfield role that aligns well with the increased responsibility that captaincy brings.

Asked for his childhood footballing hero it didn’t take much deliberation with the definitive answer being local product and international superstar Harry Kewell. Given that Jake attended the Westfield Sport High School it’s no wonder that Harry is a favourite amongst many of the former and current students at the renowned footballing nursery.

His admiration and respect for Harry is enormous and he hopes to one day meet or even play against his childhood idol. It was also Harry that helped sway him towards following Leeds United before quickly changing allegiances after his shift to the proud history of Anfield.

The game has repaid Jake to date with a highlight being his club side Marconi’s qualification in the 2009 Manchester Nike Cup competition. He had the great thrill of participating in a curtain-raiser on the hallowed turf of Old Trafford when Manchester United took on Spanish side Valencia in a pre-season friendly.

More recently Jake was delighted at being selected by Tony Popovic to join the Wanderers senior squad pre-season tour of Japan and China. The experience of travelling as a member of a professional football outfit has added fuel to an already ignited inner fire as Jake now sets his sights on aiming for more time in the senior ranks.

The experience has taught him the importance of soaking up every aspect of the game from training, recovery, preparation and patience.
“Tony Popovic has a real aura and his attention to detail in all aspects of the game is unbelievable,” said Jake.
“His level of professionalism rubs off on all the playing group and staff he comes in contact with at the club and I’m lucky to be learning from him.”
Come game day Jake believes he performs best when he is more relaxed in his mental and physical preparation. Like many footballers though the superstitious nature of game day is far too big a temptation to ignore. His insatiable need to apply socks, shin pads, boots and strapping on his right leg before his left is something that may surprise many but is a common occurrence in sporting dressing sheds across the world.

The added responsibility of captaincy doesn’t appear to be a burden but rather directs his attention from obsessing on his individual performance to that of the team.
“The true challenge in captaining a side isn’t when the side is performing well. It’s the ability to lift the spirits and keep the lads focused on the job at hand that I find more challenging and rewarding.”
The Foxtel National Youth League team is next at home when they play Melbourne Heart at Marconi Stadium on Saturday 23 November with kick-off at 3pm.

This article appears courtesy of Western Sydney Wanderers FC:


 Western Sydney Wanderers Website Link:

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

NYL: Get to know Martin Lo

By James Clark
NYL: Get to know Martin Lo
Born and bred in Western Sydney, 16 year old Martin Lo is a football talent on the rise.

Since picking up the round-ball aged six, Lo has achieved more than most kids his age and considers himself lucky to be living out his football dream at the Western Sydney Wanderers. For Lo there could be no better club to hone his craft and build on his skill base.

Born to Vietnamese parents who were happy to escape their war-ravaged country for a better life in Australia, Lo’s family has been a constant source of support and always encouraged his sporting pursuits. His brother is an important part of his life and will drive Lo to the many school and Foxtel National Youth League training sessions without question such is the commitment of the family.

Their influence and inspiration is evident as they have strived to stamp a cultural ethic of “only hard work gets results” on their son.

After receiving an innocent school newsletter home when Lo was younger, the invitation to join the local Guilford McCredie Uniting Soccer Club was too big a temptation to ignore and with his parents’ permission sparked a love of the round ball that has never waned.

He eventually moved into central midfield favouring the higher work rate and the added responsibility. Lo’s love of hard work paid dividends when he was selected to represent his country in the Australian U13 side that competed in Malaysia in 2010. A proud moment that he and his family will never forget.

Considering himself very lucky to attend the renowned Westfields Sports High School Lo takes comfort in knowing that many before him took advantage of the fine sports program on offer and went onto greater sporting success. The likes of Socceroo Harry Kewell and fellow Wanderers Mark Bridge and Aaron Mooy grace the honour board at the distinguished campus in Fairfield West.

He must be doing something right as he and team mate Jake McGing were chosen by Tony Popovic to travel with the senior squad on the recent Wanderers pre-season trip of China and Japan.

The experience of training and playing with the senior group has given him enormous confidence and motivation to focus on his dream of playing in a Sydney Derby. Lo realises that he has a long way to go but with the advice of his coach Trevor Morgan and Tony Popovic to do “simple things of the game perfectly” his dream will become a reality.

The Foxtel National Youth League is the main nursery and pathway for the rising junior talent striving to play in the Hyundai A-League.

Do yourself a favour and get down and support the Foxtel National Youth League and cheer on the young Wanderers on show as it won’t be long before many of these hopefuls get their opportunity to impress the Red and Black faithful at Pirtek Stadium on the big stage.

Martin Lo and his Wanderer’s teammates are the second match of a Marconi Stadium double header on Sunday 10 November kicking-off at 4:10pm following the Westfield W-League team's match against Adelaide United at 2pm.

Wanderers Members receive free entry with all other adults $10 and concession $5.

This article appears courtesy of Western Sydney Wanderers FC:


 Western Sydney Wanderers Website Link:

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A-League Preview 2013/14

Adelaide United
Will they be Red faced?

In a season blighted by the sudden resignation of coach John Kosmina, Adelaide were bundled out of the 2012-13 finals with barely a whimper against Brisbane Roar in week one. New Spanish coach Josep Gombau has taken the reins at the Reds and has gone about implementing a possession based mantra in pre-season. The former Barcelona youth mentor wants the Reds to play like the Catalan giants and has brought in two Spanish additions in Sergio Cirio and Isaias Sanchez to the squad.  Cirio will add some attacking flair on the flank with his pace, while Sanchez will provide stability in the heart of midfield. The acquisition of Steven Lustica is a coup for the Reds with his exceptional work rate and willingness to win the ball in midfield.

Returning Socceroo Michael Zullo is another bonus for Adelaide as he attempts to resurrect his career in the city of churches. The left back will provide an attacking threat with his exceptional pace and preparedness to overlap down the flank. Injuries in pre-season to strikers Bruce Djite and Jeronimo Neumann have left Adelaide’s attacking stocks limited and depth in this area will be a concern. The challenge for the reds is whether they can adapt to a different style of play in such a short period of time. A lack of quality in the front third is a worry and the Reds will be relying heavily on Argentinian Marcelo Carrusca for a creative spark. The loss of Dario Vidosic in pre-season is massive blow and leave the Reds without a genuine number 10. Goals will be hard to come by.

Key Player – Marcello Carrusca

The Argentine showed flashes of brilliance in his first season with Adelaide including a cracking long range effort against Wellington. But the midfielder too often drifted in and out of games and lacked the consistency needed as an import player. The loss of playmaker Vidosic means Carrusca must take more responsibility and assert his influence on games if the Reds are to make the finals. His class is unquestionable, but Gombau must get the most out of him for the Reds to be competitive.

United possess a quality squad and should be competitive, but lack a cutting edge up front. It will take time to adjust to a new style of football. Spanish imports Sergio Cirio and Isaias Sanchez need to fire for Adelaide to cause problems for opposition teams. Marcello Carrusca must step up from last season. The Reds to narrowly miss the finals.

Prediction – 7th

Brisbane Roar
 In Mulvey we trust?

The Roar had an indifferent season in 2012-13 with managerial disruptions unhinging a smooth transition from the “Ange Era”. Mike Mulvey joined the group and has been meticulous in building a squad to emulate his successor. On paper the Roar team boasts seven internationals and a wealth of premiership winning talent at their disposal. They did struggle at times adapting to a new coaching method and style of play but as confidence grew so did success on the pitch. The Roar fans have been spoilt with silverware in previous seasons but the core group of loyal supporters always remained long after the bandwagon pulled away from Milton Station. There is plenty of belief in the squad and if they manage things at the back and continue with an entertaining style that Mulvey brings, then the turnstiles will again require a top-up of WD40 come finals time.  Good news that the “Slippery Fish” Henrique is fit and ready to carve up opposition defensive lines like a well-sharpened sashimi knife

Key Player – Corey Brown

I know what you’re saying, “Who is Corey Brown?” but come the end of this season there will be plenty of pundits who will know who this young talent is. The local Brisbane boy has plenty of football credentials for his 19 years representing both the Joeys and Young Socceroos. Under the expert guidance of Socceroos Matt McKay and Jade North, Brown’s A League career promises to take off after debuting for the senior team towards the end of last season.  As a fast paced left back, Brown isn’t frightened to push forward when required and has staked his claims by bagging two goals in pre-season match ups against the Mariners and Sydney FC. It wont be hard to keep an eye out for this proud young red head as he compliments the colours of his chosen home kit.

Prediction – 2nd

Central Coast Mariners
 Arnie…. “I’ll be back 2 back?”

After securing their first A-League Championship last season from their fourth attempt, it will be an uphill battle for the Mariners in season 2013-2014. The loss of key players including Matt Ryan, Pedj Bojic, Bernie Ibini and Patrick Zwaanswijk has made their quest for back to back titles all the more difficult. The return of club favourite Matt Simon up-front provides a giant boost and the Mariner’s faithful will be hoping he can strike a lethal partnership with last season’s top scorer Daniel McBreen. The acquisition of mercurial attacking midfielder Marcos Flores from Melbourne Victory will provide a spark in midfield and take pressure off Michael McGlinchey. The retirement of Zwaanswijk in the centre of defence is a huge blow and all eyes will be watching his countryman and new signing Marcel Seip and how he can fill the hole.  With the A-League’s best coach Graham Arnold at the helm, the Mariners will again be very competitive and their starting XI is still quality. Depth of the squad will be a problem as the season develops.

Key Player – Marcos Flores

The former Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory midfielder is one of the most exciting midfielders to have played in the A-League. The Argentinian struggled for consistency last season in Victory colours and found it difficult to cement a spot in the starting XI. His vision, silky dribbling ability and passing range led him to win the A-League’s player of the year in 2009-10 with Adelaide. If he can recapture that stunning form with the Central Coast, the Mariners are a chance of a top-two finish.

The loss of key players will hurt the Mariners, but Arnold is a master at maximising the potential of his squad. Central Coast will again be competitive and Matt Simon will provide an exceptional work rate up front. The big question is whether enigmatic midfielder Marcos Flores will fit into the Mariners structure and work alongside Michael McGlinchey in the centre of the park. Expect the Mariners to make top four but they could struggle to make an impact in the finals.

Prediction – 4th

Melbourne Heart
 Do they have the ticker?

The expectation weighing on Melbourne Heart and manager John Aloisi will be immense after a disappointing campaign last season. Harry Kewell makes his return to the A-League and will provide a spark to the Melbourne Derby marking the start of the season. Victory fans are still seething after he signed with their cross-town rivals and has been vocal in his desire to travel with the Socceroos to Brazil. The only way he will join his mates aboard a QF flight to South America is goals and plenty of them. Aziz Behich also returns to AAMI Park on loan from his Turkish Club Bursapor and will relish regular pitch time after appearing only twice for his adopted Super Lig club. The pre-season hasn’t been kind so far with giant marque signing Orlando Engelaar breaking his leg in a pre-season mishap against the Brisbane Roar. The stocks however have been boosted with the late signing of experienced Maltese international Michael Mifsud.

Key Player – Michael Mifsud

Michael Mifsud should be at the centre of the Heart’s attack with his speed and goal-scoring prowess. His vast experience should combine well with Kewell and the Heart youth talent on show. Mifsud is nearing 100 games and has 37 goals for his country, and if the strike rate continues we can expect to see his name grace the score sheet regularly this season. If the Heart start the season positively and keep a healthy confidence within the squad then anything is possible. Early markets have the Heart as equal favourties with the Phoenix for the wooden spoon, however with their quality up front and a strong work ethic they are better than that, but only just.

Prediction: 9th

Melbourne Victory
 Are they ready to Roar with Ange?

The A-League’s biggest club struggled for consistency last season and a spate of injuries forced Ange Postecoglou to promote a number of youth players to the first team. The team struggled to adapt to Postecoglou’s up-tempo style of play early in the season and conceded too many goals as a result of silly mistakes. A third place finish in hindsight was a terrific return for the victory, thanks largely to A-League player of the year Marco Rojas. The loss of Rojas and Marcos Flores are big blows, but Victory have made some astute signings in Mitch Nichols, James Troisi and Kosta Barbarouses.

Their problematic defence has also been bolstered with the signing of experienced Chilean international Pablo Contreras as their marquee player. The 35-year old centre-back has represented his country on 66 occasions and should provide much needed stability at the back for the Victory. The Iridescent Archie Thompson will again lead the line for the victory and will be ably supported by Barbarouses and Troisi in the front third. If captain Mark Milligan and Guilherme Finkler fire in midfield, the quality is there to fire them to a top-two finish. The youthful looking squad should execute Postecoglou’s up-tempo possession based football to a tee and there is enough experience to ensure they remain consistent. Top Four is a minimum.

Key Player – Mark Milligan 

Unquestionably Victory’s most consistent player last year and his standout performances have propelled him to the Socceroos starting XI. Milligan is the heartbeat of Melbourne’s team and his leadership is vital to ensuring a young and talented squad remains consistent on a weekly basis. His combativeness and willingness to win the ball in midfield are his strongest attributes, but his passing range should not be underestimated. A real leader who inspires his team mates with his work ethic.

Ange Postecoglou has assembled an exciting young squad coupled with some quality-experienced players. The attacking third of the pitch is exciting for victory fans and there is more depth in midfield this time around. Contreras at the back provides the experience and stability which were lacking last year. Another pre-season adapting to Postecoglou’s mantra will shape Victory as genuine title contenders.

Prediction – 1st

Newcastle Jets
In a holding pattern or ready for take-off?

It is pressure time for the Newcastle Jets and manager Gary van Egmond this season. Fans and club officials are demanding nothing less than a finals berth. The test will be on the back four, with not too much top-flight experience there to keep the likes of Mark Birighitti quiet in the box. The huge loss of Emile Heskey after a spiteful pre-season clash with Melbourne Victory has left the forward line lacking in attacking options.  If young talent James Brown can get his “groove-thang” back on and put his injury woes in the past, he could be a fantasy league bargain buy.

Last season consistency proved be their kryptonite after an impressive start where they beat the likes of Sydney FC, Central Coast and Melbourne Victory on the trot. From then on their season never got going and were beaten by many of the weaker teams in the competition. Intensity and playing the game out for the entire 90mins will a priority for Van Egmond. Ben Kennedy returns to the squad but will find the going tough to dislodge Birighitti from the number one sport after his impressive stats and five clean sheets saw him debut in a thrilling 4-3 game for Socceroos senior side against China in the East Asian Football Cup.

Key Player –  Nathan Burns

Nathan Burns joined the Jets on loan from his Koren Club Incheon United but it is understood the terms could be extended which could be a positive move in the lead up to next year’s World Cup in Brazil. For now Burns will be looking at cementing his spot and ensuring he plays an important role in creating as many goals on the sheet for his new team. It will be a big change from the hustle and bustle of Seoul back to Newcastle, but the weather and relaxed lifestyle could be just what is needed to get Burns in a winning frame of mind. Newcastle should be a competitive outfit this season but will need to lift their intensity and success depends on the skills of Ruben Zadkovich to get them over the line each week. Other squad members will need to step up this season and stamp their own mark on a club that has been in a final drought since 2009-10.

Prediction – 6th

Perth Glory
What’s the story?

The Glory have gone about a massive style shift under manager Alistair Edwards since his appointment last season.  Despite their poor showing, which ultimately decided the fate of Ian Ferguson after five successive losses in Round 20, the Glory still managed a credible sixth place, only one shy of Brisbane Roar on the ladder. The Glory’s geographical position on the continent places them at a distinct disadvantage to the many clubs placed on the Eastern seaboard. The travel demands on players and officials could be used as an excuse for poor performances but not under Edwards. They do have a poor travelling record with a win percentage of only 21% when they play away from nib Stadium.

Shane Smeltz will be looking to improve on last year’s goal tally of seven. For the Glory to make the finals this season they need to improve on one statistic, goals! In season 2012-13, they finished with the lowest goals “for” record and hitting the net on average 1.07 times per game compared with the Mariners very impressive 1.76.  In a positive sign for the club their new home and away kits turned plenty of heads at a recent launch. Purple is seriously coming into fashion in big way in the West and all the hipsters will be seen in the Glory gear over the summer.

Key Player –  Shane Smeltz

In his third season for the Glory Smeltz will be hoping to team with other key forwards and mid-fielders to improve under new boss Alistair Edwards. The Glory’s long ball game looks to be a thing of the past and the football public will be interested to see if the long off-season has paid dividends. Plenty of praise has been heaped on youngster Daniel De Silva but the question is will he see more game time this season or will a what a see approach be adopted. Ideally he will work well coming off the bench as an impact player, but his certainly has the X-Factor that could help Glory develop their new model of play. We would love to see them improve on last year but a lack of depth and firepower may just see them slip further down the ladder. Hopefully we’re proven wrong.

Prediction – 8th

Sydney FC
aka ADP FC

With the hype surrounding the signing of Alessandro Del Piero, the Sky Blues struggled for consistency in a spluttering campaign last season. The Italian maestro regularly produced moments of brilliance for Sydney, but was too often fighting a lonely battle up front. After shedding a number of players, the Sydney have recruited well with the likes of Richard Garcia, Corey Gameiro, Pedj Bojic and Nicky Carle returning from his loan. They have shored up a leaky back line with the signing of Nikola Petkovic from Red Star Belgrade and Matt Jurman from Brisbane Roar. There appears a more balanced look to the outfit this season and the front third oozes class with Del Piero, Carle and Garcia.  Goal scoring should not be a problem for the perennial powerhouse, but consistency and settling on their best defensive outfit will provide their biggest challenge.

Key Player – Alessandro Del Piero

Unquestionably the best player to have graced the A-League, Del Piero will again be key to Sydney’s fortunes again this season. After top scoring for the club with 14 last season, Sky Blue fans will be hoping to see more of the same from the Italian superstar. His dribbling and ability to beat defenders is a nightmare for opposition teams.  ADP is a genuine two-footed player who scores spectacular goals at will and is a match-winner.

Responsibility will need to lift to match the class of their captain if they are to challenge for the top four. Sydney FC will be much improved this season and boast a squad capable of beating any opponent on the day. Consistency and putting back-to-back wins together will be their ultimate challenge, but on paper should make an appearance in the final series.

Prediction – 5th

Wellington Phoenix
The only way is up!

The Phoenix has it all to do this season but with a side boasting plenty of years in experience you never know what will transpire. With the departure of Ricki Herbert late into a disappointing season that delivered them the wooden spoon, new manager Ernie Merrick arrives with plenty of expectation for success. Merrick should deliver a more attacking outfit than seasons past particularly with the addition of star striker Carlos Hernandez. Word on the street is that Hernandez has shed a few keggers in the pre-season, which is great news for Nix fans. He has been responsible for some of the most jaw dropping strikes in the past and if he teams with the likes of Paul Ifil, they will worry plenty of quality defensive lines in the league.

The biggest statistical failure to have dogged Wellington’s ultimate success is their ability to win away from Westpac Stadium. The cake tin is a happy hunting ground but it’s not New Zealand but Australia that is their real life shaky isles. In 79 away games they have an appalling win loss record winning only 16 games and losing 49. Merrick will know this and will summon his entire managerial team to turn this record around. Early results in the pre-season fixtures have been mixed, but form lines are always hard to read into when the starting X1 is continually tinkered with.

Key Player – Jeremy Brockie

Brockie’s return home after his loan to MLS side Toronto FC could be just what doctor ordered for Phoenix Manager Ernie Merrick. Last season was one to forget for the club but Brockie was the shining light finishing second in the league’s Golden Boot battle with 16 goals.  There is no doubting his class but the cattle behind him will ultimately decide the team’s fate this season. It is another huge test this season for the Phoenix and results need to improve markedly to taste any form of success, but stranger things have happened.

Prediction – 10th, Wooden Spoon

Western Sydney Wanderers 
They love to go a Wandering…

The league’s new boys far exceeded everyone’s expectations last season winning the premiership and qualifying for the grand final in their first year. Most expect the Wanderers to suffer from second-season syndrome and struggle this year, but don’t count on it. Tony Popovic has proved himself as a top class manager and his ruthless nature will ensure the Wanderer’s remain a force in the league. Popovic’s man-management skills and ability to get the best out of his players ensures his team will be hard to beat again this season. The core of last season’s squad remains for this campaign, but they have added some attacking quality with the signing of Tomi Juric and former Sky Blue favourite Brendan Santalab.

The Wanderers will again be extremely well organised in defence by Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Michael Beauchamp – with the team conceding a league best 21 goals last season. The attacking third is more potent this season with mobile centre forward Tomi Juric leading the line with Mark Bridge, but expect Shinji Ono and the impressive Aaron Mooy to pull the strings in midfield again this season. Hersi and Santalab will provide spark on the flanks. WSW will be hard to be break down and their front third looks more potent. Top four beckons.

Key Player – Shinji Ono

Ono struggled to find his feet early on last season, but when he did he was breathtaking to watch. His juggling goal against Melbourne Victory last season was one of the best goals in A-League history and backed it up with a sublime chip in the 2-0 win over Brisbane in the preliminary final. His technical ability is world-class and provides the creative spark to unlock opposition defences. Like Del Piero, Ono can win a game with his own two feet.  Expect goals and plenty of assists from the Japanese ‘genius’.

Not too much will change with the Wanderers – defensive structure and work rate are keys to Tony Popovic’s side. Tomi Juric will provide more goals than his predecessor (Dino Kresinger) and Santalab adds another dimension to an already strong midfield. With Shinji Ono and Aaron Mooy pulling the strings in midfield it is hard to see the Wanderers dropping too much from last season. Will again be hard to beat and difficult to break down. Top Four.

Prediction – 3rd

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