After 135 games, the A-League is approaching the finish line, with the finals kicking off this weekend. While this season has been characterised by the continued domination of the Central Coast Mariners and Brisbane Roar, I believe there are two teams with the potential to cause an upset.
The first is the perennially underrated (including by me) Perth Glory.
After a history of underachievement in the A-League era, few expected Ian Ferguson would lead the Glory into the finals, let alone to third place in the regular season standings. But he did, and for that he and his players deserve credit.
In fact Fergie’s squad holds the one player who has the individual ability to shape the finals series – the indomitable Shane Smeltz.
Smeltz’s phenomenal goalscoring ability at this level was emphasised by his four-goal haul last weekend against Melbourne Victory, and his team-mates are well placed to continue to take advantage of it over the next four weeks.
One of Perth’s worst performances this season came away at Gold Coast United earlier this month, where despite dominating possession against a deep lying opponent who countered with pace, they lost 3-0.
Caught out of position, the space Perth left was exploited by United’s talented young forwards – though the early dismissal of Dean Heffernan obviously didn’t help.
In the finals I don’t expect them to take such a pro-active approach, especially against teams more adept at keeping possession and quickly switching the point of attack.
Instead Perth will attempt to stifle their opponents. Yet, as is the nature of the A-League, they will get chances, and whom else would you want on the end of them than Smeltz?
The other wildcard is Perth’s opponent this Sunday, Melbourne Heart, as no other team has as much potential throughout their squad as the red and white.
In making the finals for the first time, John van’t Schip’s side has taken a further step forward in their second A-League campaign and within their ranks are a raft of players with the ability to perform, even if a few too many haven’t done so consistently this season.
Unlike the A-League, MLS football has a history of teams coming from the last qualifying positions for the playoffs to win the MLS Cup, and if anyone is to achieve a similar feat this season it’ll be Perth or the Heart.