Thursday, August 06, 2009
Five and Still Alive, Part 2
Can Wellington survive the departure of Shane Smeltz? Their history with British journeymen has not been a happy one (Messrs. Devine, Bazeley and Gemmill spring to mind, among others), so one wonders how much faith they can afford to put in their new Anglophone brigade, although I've seen Paul Ifill perform well in the past.
Central midfield is still a problem area for the Kiwi club, with Michael Ferrante and Tim Brown (who cut an indifferent figure at the Confed Cup) not looking an especially daunting pairing. There should be some penetration on the wings, though; Leo Bertos and Daniel are both capable of getting the better of most A-League fullbacks on their day. Wellington will do well to make the finals; sadly, I can see them just missing out once again.
All change over in the west, with three fringe Socceroos snapped up and a useful-looking import slated to replace Nikita Rukavytsya up front. It all looks impressive, and certainly they should make the finals this time if the first team can gel. Can they go all the way? It might be a bit much to ask, given that the "big" signings have distracted attention from gaps in some areas, notably in the fullback positions.
Newcastle...what can one say? As a Jets fan remarked on one of my forum haunts recently, a week without a major embarrassment is a cause for celebration for the club. The last-ditch acquisition of Fabio Vignaroli will certainly help their cause, but the squad looks raw and somewhat unbalanced otherwise, with the defence heavily reliant on the presence of the irascible Ljubo Milicevic. They might scrape into the top six...after which it's anyone's guess, given Newcastle's mercurial history in the competition.
And so to the fresh faces. Gold Coast United's squad is, on paper, the best in the competition. The signing of Jason Culina was a major coup, and it's heartening to read that Miron Bleiberg is keen to use him in an advanced role, which he has so rarely occupied for the Socceroos (often, in fact, resting on his laurels in that midfield anchor role). If Bleiberg can avoid his habit of fiddling unnecessarily with the team, the new franchise will probably challenge for the title.
The other new squad looks less impressive, despite the presence of their much-hyped marquee man. He was an outstanding finisher in his day, and he surely has plenty still to offer, but where will the service come from? The failure to sign former Wellington Phoenix playmaker Felipe may cost Ian Ferguson and his men dearly, given that many of the other options in midfield for North Queensland are, frankly, cast-offs from other A-League clubs. It's difficult to see the Fury making the finals in their first year, and I hope they can be competitive (and attractive) enough to ensure a decent fan-base.
Meanwhile I'm a strong believer in the effect of hubris on soccer teams, and on that count, GCU has a large yoke around its neck before it even starts.