Round 2 wraps up, and with the Newcastle Jets having played their first game of the season, we have now had a look at every team on the park in season 2019-20.
What truly is peak A-League?
If you have spent any time online, the term “peak A-League” gets thrown around a lot.
It in the main it refers to instances where the league has a tendency to obtain notoriety, or commit an error that will bring with it a fair amount of attention, but largely for all the wrong reasons.
Think Kosta Barbarouses taping up a broken goal net, or the Brisbane Roar numbers peeling off their shirts, or Karem Bulut charging into a passionate crowd and celebrating for an uncomfortably lengthy period about a goal ruled out for offside.
The idea about peak A-League is that the term implies the league has reached a point where it cannot out-do itself for mistakes that you would not expect to find in other professional leagues around the world.
To be honest, the A-League might be wise to embrace the idea of continually seeking to reach peak A-League, but that’s another argument altogether.
It appears from this round that we reached a whole new level of peak A-League, as Western United hosted their first home game of the season at GMHBA Stadium.
Perth Glory, not content to let the second-game club steal all the limelight, ended up spoiling the homecoming for the black and greens, but not just on the field.
Perth managed to upstage the game itself by, of all things, losing their playing strip in transit to Melbourne.
Perth, essentially, had nothing to wear on the field, and while they managed to put a playing strip together by applying numbers to the back of their warm-up shirts, Perth Glory took to Twitter to advise all and sundry that not only would they be playing in an alternate, alternate, alternate strip, but they publicly blamed the Qantas airline for the loss of luggage:
— Perth Glory FC (@PerthGloryFC) October 19, 2019
Qantas, not taking too kindly to being publicly chastised about losing a professional sporting organisation’s uniform, responded as follows:
Hi there, we're looking into this for you, but our records show the bags made it to Melbourne. Please DM us with your missing bag report number or more information. Thanks. HC
— Qantas (@Qantas) October 19, 2019
Of course, what made Qantas’s response even more brilliant was that they sent their response approximately 60 minutes into the game, to which one fan provided this perfect response:
Guys they're kind of busy at the moment
— Jim ???? (@Jimmy17_) October 19, 2019
Say what you like about the A-League, and in this talking points column I invariably do, but that is still marvellous content, and while possibly harsh, certainly deserving of arguably reaching peak A-League.
Here’s to the next time the league tells all and sundry to “hold their beer” in the next instance of the potential to, finally, hit “peak A-League.”
The pressure is already ramping up
Welcome to the hot seat, Marco Kurz.
No wins after the opening two rounds, that might be acceptable for some teams looking to build as the season goes and let the new coach ease his way into his new team.
Unfortunately, Melbourne Victory and their 20,000+ paid members demand success, and the mere hint that they might be in for a long season already sits uncomfortably with such a big club.
Of course, context and perspective are everything in these situations, and the Victory have played a cagey derby and come up against a resurgent Wanderers side that will be no easy-beats this season, so it is not necessarily the worst start for the big Melbourne club.
The problem for Kurz, however, is that the start to the season so far is well short of the best way to start things, which would have much more preferred two wins, six points, and plenty of goals.
Melbourne Victory are an intelligent organisation, and doubtless won’t act too reactively in terms of Kurz’s position in the coaching chair.
The issue for Kurz and his men though is more that the longer you go without a win, the harder the first win can be to find.
Kevin Muscat, multiple premiership and championship-winning player and coach, did a reasonable job last season in defending the club’s title, yet for whatever reason, the club and he saw fit to part ways.
The point is that Melbourne Victory go about their business with little sentimentality for these things, and they make the hard decisions that need to be made.
Ultimately, Kurz has all the tools and pieces in place to come good, but going into an away fixture in Round 3 to play Brisbane Roar without a win is less than the ideal scenario for the new coach at the start of his Melbourne rejuvenation.
Western sides start strong
I ran into a Western Sydney Wanderers fan recently, and said that they were in for a good season, and I was hopeful of that fact.
When Western Sydney are strong, when their fans are happy, plentiful, and attending their games in full voice, the league feels fuller and more vibrant.
I have often felt that because Western Sydney were a strong and competitive team from their first game, they instilled a brand and culture that drew people in immediately, almost to its detriment in more recent tougher times (for example, standards have been perhaps set at an unsustainably high level).
Western United are two games into their existence, and appear to be ticking all the right boxes on-field to mirror that early success of their Sydney-based namesakes.
Undefeated after two games, and having played the reigning minor premier and surviving an away trip across the ditch, the black and greens will be far from the newcomer easy beats that you would normally expect newcomers to be.
Western United made some astute signings, particularly when you consider they successfully brought Andrew Durante and Mark Rudan together to Geelong from across the ditch.
But another player enjoying a bright start to the season is Scott McDonald, who has shown sparkling form up front in the playmaking striker role.
Years spent in British football has been at the fore in McDonald’s two outings thus far, playing with a patience and confidence of a player that has had experience under intense pressure.
What is more to like about Western United so far is that a first-up home draw against the reigning minor premier has not been seen as a disappointment, but it certainly has not been accepted as successful.
Mark Rudan is not leaning on the get-out clause of this being the club’s first year to demand any less than success.
That is the sort of mentality that bodes well for the new club moving forward.
What a strike!
Derbies are a tough beast.
When you have a rival team in your local vicinity, there is very little that they can do or achieve that you, as the opposing fan, will allow yourself to enjoy.
And all things being said, essentially hating your rival’s achievements if part of the fun, the hate plays its role in the pantomime of sporting rivalry.
The F3 Derby, the original A-League derby, has stayed strong over the years, and through the ups and downs of each club, in the A-League’s 15th season, the rivalry between the two teams is as strong as ever.
Finding myself standing in Bay 32 of Central Coast Stadium, in a huge throng of Newcastle Jets supporters, the latest in the derby match ups started spritely, with the Mariners playing hard and fast football, the Jets stepping up in opposition, and the ringing of Newcastle boos around the stadium every time former Hunter son Mark Birighitti touched the ball.
Four minutes into the game, off the back of a swift counter-attack, and a near pinpoint accurate cross from Jordan Murray, Milan Duric hit the ball first time with a sniper’s accuracy, and the ball ripped into the back of the net.
As Newcastle supporters went quiet with record speed, and Duric raced into the waiting adulation of the home fans, all you could do was turn to your fellow supporter, tip your hat, and say: yeah, that was a great strike.
The rest of the game itself was probably more intriguing and edgy than it was exciting, but for that strike alone, the game was worth it.
Had a Jets player landed the strike, most Newcastle fans would probably still be on cloud nine, but instead in this instance, it is the Mariners fans who can dine out on the wonder-strike, a likely early-season contender for goal of the year.
However, such was the quality of Duric’s strike that even the most hardened of Jets supporters, refusing to acknowledge even the slightest hint of success from their Central Coast rivals, had to admit that it was a great goal.
No easy feat.
A game-winning striker: priceless
A week ago, whether for tactical reasons or otherwise, Melbourne City looked directionless and largely without threat against the Victory in the Round 1 derby.
But insert a striker in form, and suddenly, City looked like title challengers.
If you think about the last three A-League champions, Victory had Besart Berisha, while Sydney have had Bobo and Adam Lefondre, the point being, strikers with bags full of goals can take you to a championship.
The position of striker is a hugely underrated role, and in saying that, the implication isn’t that people don’t appreciate strikers, but more that the specialist role of striker is underrated in understanding the skill involved in playing the position up front.
A striker is more than just taking shots on goal, and getting on the scoresheet.
A striker needs to be in the right places, they need to apply forward pressure, know when to play their part, where to be, whether to take the shot or pass it off, and if deciding to take the shot, rather than simply blasting away and hoping for the best, do they place it, do they chip it, the striker, as a complete package, must be everything at all times, and the right thing when it matters.
As Jamie Maclaren showed in the Round 2 clash with Adelaide, putting a man up front who completes the picture, while only being 1 of 11 pieces, can be a very big piece.
Maclaren brought so much more than his goals, his touches at one point bringing oohs of pleasure from the crowd.
He chased down possession, he created chances for others, and ultimately, his two finishes were clinical, but more importantly, crucial.
Maclaren came into last season underdone and slightly out of place, amidst the acrimony surrounding the place of Bruno Fornaroli.
For Maclaren, with a big off-season under his belt and a new coaching set up giving a fresh approach to City going into this season, the front man may be just the player to take City to the next level.
O’Neill deserves some credit
It was interesting having a look over the Sydney FC line up that took the field against Wellington Phoenix at Leichhardt Oval.
There are indeed a lot of new faces in this sky blues championship-defending unit.
You have the likes of Ryan McGowan, Alex Baumjohann, Luke Brattan and Kosta Barbarouses all in their first seasons in Sydney.
Alex Wilkinson and Paolo Retre have had a couple seasons, so has Andrew Redmayne, while Milos Ninkovic had a stellar European career before settling in Sydney for the last few seasons.
Rhyan Grant obviously speaks for himself as a one-club man who along with his hair-style has developed a strong cult following of his own, but perhaps one player who isn’t appreciated as much as he should be outside of Sydney is Brandon O’Neill.
Entering his fourth season with the sky blues, he has enjoyed success, and stuck by his club, and through all the changes that all clubs have necessarily (or unnecessarily) experienced, O’Neill has remained a mainstay in Sydney’s line ups and success.
As he scored the opener for Sydney at Leichhardt’s boutique stadium, it was worth a reminder that in a day and age of a near transit lounge of players at every club, around the world not just the A-League, players who hang around should be lauded more regularly.
Part of the lure of following a club is developing an attachment to players, and with the A-League, where every player is looking for that big shot abroad, or might be returning to Australia having paved their way elsewhere, players like O’Neill who might have had opportunities elsewhere perhaps should be more directly celebrated for staying with their club.