Manton Street Tales isn’t normally written in a Melbourne hotel room while my wife and baby daughter are sleeping. But we have family to visit here… and the Socceroos will face Japan at Docklands Stadium tomorrow night. A happy coincidence. Which I may have engineered.
The A-League has begun too – it doesn’t pause while international matches are being played (more on that later).
Round one concluded yesterday with champions Adelaide United visiting Newcastle.
Yes, United will carry that epithet until at least May 2017. But during the match against the Jets, it seemed… well… odd. Because there were so few players from the Reds’ championship winning team on the park.
Departures and injuries meant that only six of the chaps that featured in last season’s grand final were in United’s squad. Most of them play at the back so two of the three starting midfielders were new to the club as were two of the three starting forwards.
Nevertheless, so many other aspects of the fixture were familiar. Opening round rustiness? Check. A game between Adelaide United and Newcastle not likely to be a contender for match of the season? Check.
And, most depressingly, the Jets – not a club renowned for imposing home form – have continued their tradition of playing “Never Tear Us Apart” before games.
You may know that some other Australian sporting team copied them (both with the song and the dodgy home form that mocks it).
Still, the Jets were first on the board thanks to a superb goal from midfielder Wayne Brown.
Brown is the type of signing that Australian soccer’s famous snobberati roll their eyes at: a journeyman and an Englishman.
But his goal would be held up as an example of the flair and technique of South American or Iberian players… if Brown were either. He beat two opponents with an exquisite chip and then thundered the ball home from outside the penalty area.
The former Fulham man, who made one appearance in the Premier League, might be a great pick up for the Jets. The word out of their camp is that he’s comfortable playing in several different roles.
United’s equaliser, just before the game reached its half hour mark, also came from a player signed in the off-season – Jesse Makarounas.
While the goal was a gift – a mistake by Newcastle ‘keeper Jack Duncan presenting Makarounas with an empty net – the young midfielder did enough in the rest of the match to show he could be a fine addition for the Reds this season.
That’s where the scoring ended and I’d guess that few fans will be rushing to watch replays of the second half.
The other players that United will rely on to provide routes to goal had a handful of good moments but they’ll need more time. Sergi Guardiola, James Holland and Henrique have barely met.
Indeed several A-League squads have a lot of new players so round one form can be deceiving.
Western Sydney will certainly be hoping that’s the case after crashing to a 4-0 defeat in front of more than 60,000 people against city rival Sydney FC. It’s worth remembering the Wanderers didn’t look much better in the opening round last season (a 3-1 home loss to Brisbane Roar) but would reach the grand final.
The only other team to lose on the weekend – Wellington Phoenix – certainly shouldn’t begin to despair either. They were without four players who are currently with the New Zealand squad.
I understand why Football Federation Australia schedules A-League matches when internationals are played. If that doesn’t happen, games would need to move to weeknights and then they’d get smaller attendances and ratings (and the only other ways around the problem would be a longer season or fewer fixtures).
But if one team needs special consideration it’s Wellington which, as New Zealand’s only professional team, is often going to have more senior international players than any other A-League club.
Round two may not offer many more clues about the rest of the season but there will be plenty of talking points with Adelaide United hosting the Wanderers on Friday night. A grand final rematch. Sort of.
The following night will see Melbourne have its first derby of the season and that will feature the A-League debut of … oh look I won’t ruin the surprise.
It is, however, the Socceroos who will be playing in the most important match on Australian soil this week as tomorrow night’s World Cup qualifier against Japan could shape the rest of their campaign for Russia 2018.
Had the Aussies kept their lead against Saudi Arabia last week, they would have been in a more comfortable position going into this game. But the draw meant that little separates the Socceroos, the Saudis, Japan and UAE. Only the top two teams in the group are guaranteed a place in the World Cup finals.
Manton St Tales is InDaily’s weekly soccer column.
Paul Marcuccitti is a co-presenter of 5RTI’s Soccer on 531 program which can be heard from 10am on Saturdays.
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