Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Five and Still Alive, Part 1
That number is significant, since there were many who predicted that the A-League would prove unsustainable and die after only three or four outings. Well, it's still going, there's still plenty of broad support for the national competition, and the off-field presentation is more professional than it ever was in the NSL era, even if the football is only marginally better. But sustainability in the long term...the battle hasn't been won yet.
So then, in order of last year's table:
It's interesting that most pundits are installing last year's champions as the favourites, given how badly they fared in the season following their first A-League triumph. Yes, there haven't been any significant departures this time (the loss of Fred was a major factor in Melbourne's 2007/08 flop, of course), but the squad is one year older, and there are few new faces.
Surat Sukha is an interesting addition; we witnessed his quality in patches at the 2007 Asian Cup, but we've already seen how Asian players can take their time to adapt to the greater physicality (not to mention the comparatively permissive refereeing) of the Australian game. I feel that Melbourne are not really the team to beat this season, even though they should reach the finals.
Adelaide can still boast the midfield riches that saw them through to the Asian Champions League final last term, but Sasa Ognenovski is a massive loss at the back. Iain Fyfe, for all his dogged qualities, doesn't fill the breach. The Reds go into the season with some injury worries as well, and a question mark over their strikeforce; it might not be the happiest of seasons for Vidmar and his men.
The re-badged Brisbane Roar look in slightly better shape, although like Melbourne, they haven't changed their squad significantly. The backline is starting to look on the geriatric side, but there are some fresh faces in Luke DeVere and Matt Mundy, both of whom showed promise last term. Further up the park, it will be interesting to see whether Robbie Kruse can rediscover his 2007/08 form, and, perhaps more significantly, whether Charlie Miller can stay fit. If Kruse and Miller both stay on song and Sergio van Dijk continues to provide the goals, Brisbane could well challenge for the premiers' plate...again.
The other team from last year's final four looks in questionable shape. Yes, the Mariners have gained some solid results in pre-season, to dampen the memory of their dismal Asian Champions League campaign. But they don't look like replacing the much-missed Mile Jedinak any time soon, and how many surprises can they pull in midfield, with Adrian Caceres starting to look past his best? It could be a long (ball) season for McKinna's men.
Plenty of optimism surrounding Sydney FC, of course, but they are still a long way from solving their long-running problems in defence. Stephan Keller looks a worthwhile addition, and he seems set to relieve young Matthew Jurman of the responsibility of being a first-team regular. The right-back position is still Shannon Cole's, despite the misjudgements he occasionally made in the position last term. Still, a pre-season with a host of clean sheets means things can't be all bad.
At the other end, Mark Bridge might take a while to rediscover his form after a miserable period in China, and John Aloisi...will need to pull his socks up. Steve Corica remains the one true creator in the side, and he won't often last for 90 minutes this term; will Brendan Gan or Karol Kisel be able to do what Corica has done so reliably in the past? Sydney still have the potential to challenge for the top two, but it will be a stern test of Vitezslav Lavicka's acumen.
Next: last season's tailenders, and the two newcomers.