Things are never straightforward with Adelaide United and the Reds’ 2017 Asian Champions League campaign has shown that yet again.
They could have gone in to their final group phase match against Jiangsu Suning on May 9 having already qualified for the knockout rounds.
Or they could have been eliminated already which at least would have ensured that disappointment was dealt with quickly.
Or they could have gone in to the Jiangsu game controlling their destiny (i.e. knowing that a win would be enough to get them through to the competition’s last 16 irrespective of the result in the group’s other match).
But why would things be that clear cut for United when an emotional rollercoaster is on offer (having to defeat Jiangsu and needing Gamba Osaka to beat – or draw with – Jeju United in Jeju)?
We saw a similar situation a year ago, didn’t we?
To lift the Premier’s Plate and ensure home finals last season, it wasn’t enough for Adelaide United to beat Melbourne City in the closing A-League round; our old friends at Melbourne Victory needed to win or draw against Brisbane Roar the following night as well – a situation that had fans on edge until the final whistle confirmed that the Reds would finish top.
(And let’s not talk too much about United defeating Central Coast 1-0 in the final round of the 2008-09 season when the Reds needed to win by two goals to be Premiers. Or that season’s finals series. Or the finals in 2006-07…)
But even if you leave United’s historical penchant for drama aside, there’s something strangely appropriate about this finish in its Asian Champions League group.
As I wrote a week ago, United is going through a period of uncertainty with little news about who will be playing for the club in 2017-18 (and around a dozen spots still needing to be filled for next season’s squad) or who will be coaching.
Meanwhile the current squad, which includes a few players whose future beyond this season is a mystery, continues to keep its Asian campaign alive.
It includes Eugene Galekovic who is carrying on as the team’s number one ‘keeper while there’s been no official word about him.
But we did get an announcement about a gloveman last week with United confirming that Paul Izzo has returned. With John Hall and Daniel Margush also at the club, the Reds currently have four goalkeepers.
If only there were that many strikers to choose from.
There were three in the squad that drew 3-3 against Gamba Osaka in Japan last night. But, as far as we know, none of them have a contract for next season.
Perhaps by May 9 things will be clearer. Perhaps the club is waiting to get to the other side of that date before it says something about its plans for next season and how that affects the coach and several players.
But here’s an irony. While United’s hierarchy would love a win against Jiangsu and qualification for the round of 16 (not least because those two things would be worth a total of US$130,000), it would mean the Reds’ season continuing until the end of May.
Because the ACL’s round of 16 is played before its long mid-year break.
Which could mean United playing another game at Hindmarsh on May 24 before an away match a week later.
And if the club is waiting for its 2016-17 matches to end before it says anything meaningful about next season, we could be waiting another month.
Another month of the almost-certainly-departing Eugene in goal … with Sergio up ahead of him … and Guillermo steering the ship.
A truly Adelaide United story.
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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