A-League preview: A season of settling in for the Wanderers
Western Sydney Wanderers strip (Image: Twitter)
The new kids on the block, the West Sydney Wanderers, add an exciting new dimension to the competition this season, bringing elite football back to Sydney’s west and adding three keenly anticipated Sydney derbies to the A-League fixture list.
West Sydney Wanderers
If the manager if anything to go by Tony Popovic’s team should, at the very least, be well prepared and competitive.
Assembled on a fairly tight budget with little time for Popovic and his assistant Ante Milicic to pull it all together, this season will be as much about settling into A-League life as anything else.
If the Wanderers can make the finals in what is shaping up as the A-League’s most competitive and best season yet, it will be a job well done, and that’s even with the looming addition of Shinji Ono.
With cross town rivals Sydney FC wrestling the pre-season attention away from them with the signing of Alessandro Del Piero, the Wanderers looked like they’d be missing out on all the headlines, but Ono gives them a timely boost after a tough little period.
What his arrival should do is grab the attention of Sydney’s Japanese community and make a fair splash back in his homeland.
Additionally, the Wanderers might just hit the jackpot with sales of the stylish red and black hoop strip in Japan.
After all, which football fan wouldn’t want a “Flamengo” with “Ono” on the back?
Meanwhile, if he can get himself match-fit, Ono might yet offer a bit on the field at the head of Popovic’s midfield triangle.
Whether Ono will be up to the pressing pace Popovic’s 4-2-3-1 is likely to demand remains to be seen, but the Red and Black Bloc, the Wanderers effervescent support crew, will be hoping his finesse on the ball will make up for any deficiencies in speed.
While Ono’s mooted arrival adds some expectation, Popovic and Milicic should certainly be given some time to bring it all together, especially considering their start which seems them meet the Mariners, Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane in the opening four rounds.
These two mates, who grew up together at Sydney United, know the game well and have worked extremely hard to pull together a squad, trialling player after player.
They have also worked hard on getting their players to understand their system, and that much was evident in an impressive opening trial game at St. Marys. (http://www.theroar.com.au/2012/07/26/exciting-start-for-western-sydney-wanderers-on-and-off-the-pitch/)
While it may not be a squad abounding in quality, it is one filled with opportunity, and Popovic will hope that this motivation drives the Wanderers to a successful first campaign.
Whether it’s a player given a second, third or fourth chance, or the ones being thrust into the A-League limelight for the first time, opportunity knocks.
Take the likes of skipper Micheal Beauchamp, fullbacks Tarek Elrich, Shannon Cole and Adam D’Apuzzo, fowards Mark Bridge and Labinot Haliti and goalkeeper Ante Covic. All of them are being given another chance.
While it might be easy to say they will add experience, Popovic will need to get them playing consistently well in order for the Wanderers to be competitive.
This is a tough league and in order to have any chance of making the finals, you can’t have too many inconsistent performers.
It is a particularly important season for Beauchamp, now at his fourth A-League club having been released by the Melbourne Heart and Sydney FC the past two seasons.
Working for former Socceroos teammate Popovic and back with Milicic (they played together at the Heart and previously at Parramatta Power in the NSL), he has not only been entrusted with the armband, but with the responsibility for anchoring the defence alongside the equally imposing Nikolai Topor-Stanley.
Big units, the two must remain organised and ensure they aren’t exposed on the deck by an increasingly mobile and fleet-footed league.
Another western Sydney product in the same boat as Beauchamp is Mark Bridge, who has hitherto had an inconsistent career at both Newcastle and Sydney FC.
Perhaps another in the enigma class is Tahj Minniecon, who has worked hard to shed close to 10 kilos in the pre-season.
Like Bridge and Labinot Haliti, Minniecon will need to be consistently productive if the Wanderers front third is to click alongside big number 9 Dino Kresinger.
Wanderers have also provided a chance for some new faces, including the player many are expecting will emerge as one of the stars of the competition, Aaron Mooy.
An Australian youth international, Mooy can be expected to play in Popovic’s three man central midfield, and is adaptable enough to fit either in one of the two holding roles, slightly advanced of the screener, or higher up in the creative number 10 role.
Of course, once Ono is in shape, Mooy is most likely to play in that half-and-half role, between the holder and creator.
Not only can Mooy add comfort and craft on the ball, but he can be expected to provide penetration and goals with his forward thrusts, not to mention his work over the dead ball.
Another creative type that has impressed in the pre-season, looking every bit an A-League player, is Jason Trifiro.
He is among a couple of exciting prospects including Reece Caira and Kwabena Appiah-Kubi, while Jerryd Tyson is more than good enough to push Covic for the number one role.
The hope for Popovic is that these kids can put plenty of pressure on the Wanderers foreign contingent, the best of whom appear to be the Croatian pair, Kresinger and holding midfielder Mateo Poljak.
The others, Jerome Polenz, Youssouf Hersi and Iacopo La Rocca appear to be taking a little longer to settle in, especially La Rocca.
Whether there is quite enough quality in the foreign contingent, even factoring in Ono’s late arrival, remains the big question.
At the end of the day, I’m expecting the Wanderers to be well organised and competitive. But in order to make a serious tilt at finals, Kresinger, Ono, Mooy and Mateo would need bumper seasons, and the central defensive pair mustn’t be exposed on the ground.
Goalkeepers; Ante Covic (Melbourne Victory), Jerrad Tyson (Gold Coast United)
Defenders; Iacopo La Rocca (Grasshopper Zurich, Switzerland), Michael Beauchamp, Shannon Cole (Sydney FC), Tarek Elrich, Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Newcastle Jets), Adam D’Apuzzo (APIA Leichhardt, NSWPL)
Midfielders; Mateo Poljak (Lokomotiva Zagreb, Croatia), Jason Trifiro (South Melbourne, VPL), Aaron Mooy (St Mirren, Scotland), Reece Caira (Aston Villa), Jerome Polenz (FC Union Berlin, Germany)
Attackers; Dino Kresinger (Cibalia Vinkovci, Croatia), Mark Bridge (Sydney FC), Labinot Haliti (Newcastle Jets), Tahj Minniecon (Gold Coast United), Youssouf Hersi (Alki Larnaca, Cyprus), Kwabena Appiah-Kubi (Parramatta Eagles, NSWPL)
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA
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