On Wednesday night, the A-League’s two most travelled teams met at Lang Park. Western Sydney Wanderers recorded a 4-1 win over the Brisbane Roar in front of just 6,813 spectators, as the fixture list build-up starts to affect both teams on and off the field.
Recording just their third A-League win this season, the Wanderers have already missed their chance to make the top six.
But by comprehensively beating the Roar on Wednesday, the Red and Blacks may have cost Brisbane their chance as well.
With both teams fighting on numerous fronts, with trips to Asia for the Champions League and a pile up of rearranged domestic fixtures, is it any wonder it’s all starting to take its toll on injury-ravaged squads and fatiguing players.
Brisbane were without eight first-choice players due to the international window and injuries, and despite the Wanderers suffering many of the same issues, the Roar looked sluggish, tired, and were frequently overrun by the dynamic Wanderers.
The match was the second time these two teams have faced each other this month, in what has been a mammoth March for both sides. In March the Wanderers will play a whopping eight times, and the Roar seven.
Looking at the bigger picture, during February, March and April, the Roar will play 19 games. That works about at just over a game every four days. Western Sydney Wanderers will play 20 games in the same time period.
In that time, the Roar players will rack up 64,600km of travel (5,873km per trip – including to the Gold Coast for two Champions League home games), and the Wanderers 45,940km (5,104km per trip).
Compare that to Adelaide, who play just 12 games (one game every six-and-a-half days) in that time frame and will travel just 17,260km for their six away trips (2,877km per trip). It’s easy to see why the Roar and Wanderers are struggling.
To make matters even worse, twice after coming back from Asia the Roar and Wanderers have to front up just three days later in the A-League. Qualification for the Champions League is meant to be a reward; you could say that it is in fact a curse.
And it’s not just the players getting fatigue with it all. 12,095 people watched the Roar play the Wanderers on March 8 – nearly double who turned up on Wednesday. Is familiarity breeding contempt? Fans are clearly uncomfortable with midweek games, let alone against an opponent many saw play just 17 days ago, hence the reduced numbers.
So what is the answer? More teams? Fewer fixtures? Some form of dispensation for those playing in the Champions League?
For a start, I don’t agree with expansion. Yet. So that as an option is out.
And although a game being rescheduled doesn’t help congestion, there is very little the FFA can do about games being abandoned for the weather etc. But as a start, they could suspend the A-League during the international window.
As the A-League continues to grow and develop, more and more players plying their trade at home will be called up to the Socceroos and Olyroos. That’s as inevitable as it is brilliant for the league. Suspending the league during international windows ensures that teams that are nurturing Australian talent are not penalised for doing so.
And what of teams who qualify for the Champions League? Should they be penalised to the extent that they suffer unduly in the following season when they have to juggle continental ambitions with a playoff push?
Maybe implementing a bye week is the answer.
Reducing the number of matches each team would play to fit in a bye or two could be problematic – mainly for commercial reasons (although perhaps the occasional NPL match could be televised to fill the void – but that’s a separate argument). Perhaps having fewer home games would make those left more exclusive and attractive to the average punter too, increasing attendances.
Reducing fixtures wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I’m sure a preferable option for stakeholders would be to extend the season over a longer time period.
Spreading out the fixtures should ensure that fans aren’t lumped with seeing the same players playing for the same teams twice in the same month (or as will be the case in April, twice in three days when the Roar host the Victory on the 15th and 18th).
Having a bye week or two will also help the other teams who have to do a lot of travelling over the usual course of a season.
As I pointed out earlier, Adelaide averaged just 2,877km per trip in the time period of February, March and April. If the Wanderers didn’t have to travel to Asia, they would only average 1,951km per away trip over this time period.
Perth and Wellington on the other hand, stationed as they are at the outposts of the A-League world, are forced to travel absurd distances over the course of a season. Over the same three month time period as above, the Glory and Phoenix will rack up 35,120km and 25,000km of air miles respectively, averaging 5,853km and 4,166km per away trip.
And that’s just playing 12 games. What happens if Perth or Wellington make the Champions League next season? Perth would spend some much time in the air the A-League may as well rebrand it’s self as the A(irport) League.
Adding a bye will give these teams a much greater opportunity to recover from matches and potentially challenge for the title. Perth and Wellington are two of the three clubs to have never come first or second on the ladder at the end of the season. Coincidence? Maybe. But all the travelling can’t help.
Regardless, I hope that an arrangement can be made. It would be sad to think that the Wanderers incredible achievement last year, where they made the final and won the Champions League was an aberration and not the norm of what we expect from our teams.