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Manton St Tales

A defeat worth waiting for

Manton St Tales

It’s possible Paul Marcuccitti jinxed Adelaide United even before Saturday’s kick-off, but he nonetheless exited the Manton St gates with as much excitement as many a win would engender, after a game – and an event – that showcased the best of A-League soccer.

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If he were a soccer fan, a certain former Prime Minister might now say that if you walk into any pet shop in Australia, the resident galah will be talking about A-League expansion.

For the last fortnight has seen that discussion reach a new level. After a meeting between Football Federation Australia and the existing clubs, a joint statement noted that “economically sustainable expansion of the A-League is a strategic priority”.

Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou re-entered the conversation with somewhat more enthusiasm: “I understand there’s economics behind it but from where I sit, I think there’s a real need for it, and sooner rather than later.”

And we’ve seen ideas about how it could be structured and even plans that were drawn up about expansion in to south-east Asia.

So how is that relevant to the weekend’s epic clash between Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory?

In life, there is value in scarcity. That applies to sport too, though administrators of many sports in many places have a tendency to increase quantity for profit.

And, though it wasn’t part of a deliberate plan, Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory hadn’t faced each other at Hindmarsh since March 21, 2015. That was 581 days before Saturday night’s encounter.

The 2015/16 season deprived us of this event as two of the clubs’ three A-League meetings were in Melbourne and the Reds’ home match was the opening round Adelaide Oval fizzer.

Which meant there was even more anticipation for the rivalry’s return to Manton Street than there usually is. It remains the best A-League fixture played in Adelaide, with the biggest contingent of away fans and an unrivalled atmosphere.

Melbourne Victory supporters during the Round 3 A-League match between Adelaide United and the Melbourne Victory at Cooper Stadium in Adelaide, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (AAP Image/David Mariuz) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

ATMOSPHERE: Melbourne Victory supporters during the game. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

The next United-Victory game at Hindmarsh will be on … 7 January.

I’m sure it’ll be fantastic but, given that it’s less than three months away, the buzz that preceded Saturday’s match won’t quite be the same.

With just ten teams in the A-League, three round robins are needed to fill out the season (otherwise each team would play just 18 matches). And three round robins mean we don’t have that precious scarcity.

After more than 60,000 fans flooded to Stadium Australia two weeks ago to see Sydney FC take on Western Sydney, some observers immediately asked whether all matches between the crosstown rivals should be played at that venue.

But I’d wager that you wouldn’t get that sort of crowd in every Sydney derby when there are three a season. If there were only two? Maybe.

For the calendar to have enough games with two round robins, there would need to be at least 14 teams in the A-League, an increase of four. There are a lot of reasons why expansion should happen – and several are more important – but don’t underestimate the value of having more unique season fixtures.

It would not do to avoid mention of the match itself, the sort that will remain in the memory of all who saw it.

Indeed the game was so high on drama, quality and excitement that, unusually, when I’d normally be lamenting a cruel loss, my overriding thought when I walked away was that one of the reasons you turn up is because you hope to see that type of contest.

Besart Berisha of the Victory celebrates a goal during the Round 3 A-League match between Adelaide United and the Melbourne Victory at Cooper Stadium in Adelaide, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (AAP Image/David Mariuz) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Besart Berisha celebrates a goal as James Holland looks on dejected. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

Even the coaches shelved the normal media conference lines. Victory’s Kevin Muscat: “I thoroughly enjoyed tonight as a football spectacle. The atmosphere was absolutely electric and it was a great fillip for our competition and what we can produce.”

Guillermo Amor wasn’t going to let the loss detract from a fine United performance saying that he’d prefer it to a draw in which the team played badly.

And there’s no spin there because, despite some suggestions that the Reds needed to be more clinical in front of goal, sometimes you just have to accept what the game delivers. Too many will let what happened in the last few minutes of the game influence their judgement.

Hitting the post twice in the final moments just before your opponents go up the other end and score a winner? With such fine margins I wouldn’t overanalyse.

What I should perhaps do is apologise. When I saw Victory’s ‘keeper Lawrence Thomas warm up I tweeted my thanks to him for winning Adelaide United the premiership last season. (His heroics in a final round match between Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar denied the Queensland side a win which would have seen it finish top at the Reds’ expense.) I should have known that he was always going to have a great game after I did that.

But Thomas wouldn’t have had to make several top saves if United didn’t play well and that’s something fans should take away from Saturday night’s classic.

There are plenty of doubters this season – including me – but if that performance is a sign of things to come, the Reds might continue to be a force.

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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