This crazy A-League season gets more interesting by the round, but only if we’re judging it by the action on the pitch and not by every other metric generated off it.
One sure-fire way to gauge the health of any A-League season is by monitoring how engaged Melbourne Victory fans are with the current campaign.
Andrew Nabbout’s stunning stoppage-time winner against Adelaide United on Saturday night means Victory fans can dream about finals football for at least another week.
And Victory’s improbable come-from-behind 2-1 win over the Reds was as gripping as any match we’ve seen this season.
Kristian Opseth seems like the last player you’d expect to open the scoring with such panache, but the big Norwegian busted the game wide open with a superb early goal for Adelaide.
It wasn’t until Marco Rojas equalised with a razor-sharp finish that Victory ever really looked capable of winning the game, and they might not have even done that had George Blackwood not smashed a swerving effort against the crossbar minutes earlier.
By the time a battered and bruised Nabbout cut inside to blast an unstoppable rising effort into the top corner of the goal in the 91st minute we’d witnessed one of the most enthralling games of the season.
And it was hardly the only high-quality action on what was an absorbing weekend of football.
Will Nikolai Topor-Stanley ever hit a strike more sweetly than his rocket in Newcastle’s 2-1 win over Perth Glory?
Will Max Burgess start scoring for fun now that he’s broken his long goal drought with a hat-trick in Western United’s 6-2 win over the Central Coast Mariners?
And why did Mariners midfielder Gianni Stensness decide that particular thrashing in Geelong was the optimal time to pull out one of the most acrobatic goals of the season?
If we judged the A-League solely by what happened on the pitch, there’d be no reason to believe it was any less entertaining than any of the other leagues around the world.
But we don’t just judge by what happens on the pitch. We analyse attendances and debate broadcast ratings and look at all the other facets that make up the whole picture.
Often the football itself gets pushed to the side amid the clamour to base our opinions on every other metric that casts the A-League in a bad light.
Sometimes those sort of complaints are perfectly understandable.
It defies belief why Melbourne Victory continue to play games out of Marvel Stadium when it’s clear their fan-base can’t stand the venue.
Both Melbourne clubs charge ridiculous ticket prices that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the current economic climate, with ever-dwindling attendances being the natural result.
But while the A-League has its problems – and it’s high time the clubs themselves realised there’s nothing stopping them thinking about some new and novel ways to attract fans through the gates – there’s nothing inherently wrong with the standard of football.
Coincidentally, the 25th season of Major League Soccer kicked off over the weekend and I watched bits and pieces of a few games on beIN Sports.
The crowds were huge, the pitches were a contrast in quality and the standard was the same as it’s always been in the MLS: good enough without ever threatening to be great.
But what makes the MLS entertaining is something we lost sight of long ago in the A-League. North Americans know their league isn’t the best in the world, but they shrug their shoulders and still turn out in decent numbers to watch it anyway.
We only do that for the big games – and even those are getting fewer and farther between.
This was a hugely entertaining weekend of football. It was the perfect reminder that we can enjoy the A-League for what it is instead of focusing incessantly on what it isn’t.