Over the years, an endless stream of theories have circulated around the reasons behind the impending and inevitable death of the A-League.
The NPL Victoria season kicks off this Thursday, and it’s time we had a look at the upcoming season.
Last season hit new highs for the Victorian first tier, with record streaming numbers and some very good crowds as well. This season it’s looking to get bigger and better.
Last season saw a bit of a shock relegation with Pascoe Vale – who came fourth in 2018 – taking the drop to NPL 2, along with Kingston City. This made way for St Albans Saints and Eastern Lions to move up.
The two promoted sides have recruited reasonably well. Eastern Lions have signed Peter Deng from Heidelberg United, Jack Musgrave from Dandenong Thunder, and Daniel MacLennan also from Dandenong Thunder.
St Albans have brought in Anthony Dezic from Dandenong Thunder, Anthony Poljak from Dandenong City and Nathan Liberto from Box Hill.
The three teams whose names have been talked about a lot this off-season are South Melbourne, Dandenong Thunder and Dandenong City. All three sides have recruited pretty well this year and are expected to make a big improvement.
South Melbourne were a quality side last year, but their massive issue was not having a quality striker. Their top scorer last season only scored six goals. But they’ve got their man now.
Harrison Sawyer has played in the A-League before, and recently in the Philippines and Hong Kong, scoring 34 goals in 17 games there. He has to be the man to score around 15 goals for South this season.
Not just Sawyer, South Melbourne have brought in many good players such as Luke Pavlou from Oakleigh Cannons, Chris Irwin from Kingston City, Amadu Koroma from Port Melbourne, and many others including former Newcastle United youth player Stephan Folan.
The other is Dandenong City. Dandy City picked up 31 points from the last 15 games last season, which can be credited to former A-League players Brendon Santalab, Carl Valeri and Adrian Leijer all signing for the club. Santalab and Valeri have since left, but they’ve been able to hold onto Leijer.
The important signing from Dandy City is Chris Lucas, a former A-League player who scored 27 goals in 27 games, including an FFA Cup hat trick for NPL Queensland side Brisbane Olympic. I expect him to be better than Santalab. Apart from that, Dandy City’s signings are a bit over-hyped this year, but the strong end to last season should equal a strong 2020.
Another possible riser this year is Dandenong Thunder. Dandenong Thunder have been ranked too highly by a lot of people. Last year, they had the worst defence in the competition, and their goalkeeper Pierce Clark has since left. Although they have replaced him with Francis Soale.
Dandenong Thunder have also tightened up their defence, bringing in former Central Coast Mariners defender Harry Ascroft, and have improved their midfield by bringing in Afghani player Zelfy Nazary. Despite the signings, they’ve lost Kieran Dover to Bentleigh Greens, Blake Carpenter to Avondale, and a few others. I do expect Thunder to make an improvement, though.
The premiership this year is going to Oakleigh Cannons. They picked up a whopping 37 points in the last 15 games, being undefeated in that time. And they have made some great signings.
They’ve brought in Joe Knowles, who scored eight goals in 13 games for ECU Joondalup last season and is a former Perth Glory striker. They’ve also brought in a former Perth Glory and Celtic goalkeeper Nick Feely, midfielder Harley Orr, who has won consective NPL WA championships with Perth SC, as well as former NPL Victoria player of the year Tyson Holmes. The list just goes on.
Avondale will be their closest challenger this season. They have pretty much the same squad that took them to second while adding Blake Carpenter into the mix. They will start on -3 points, though, which won’t help.
Overall, this season is going to be very unpredictable, and I look forward to it.
St Albans Saints
Port Melbourne Sharks