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Not as sweet as a championship, but FFA Cup's better than sweet FA

Manton St Tales

Adelaide United coach Marco Kurz might feel that luck hasn’t been on his side much this season.

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The Reds’ run of three straight losses – snapped on Thursday night with victory over Central Coast – was partly explained by a long injury list.

But Baba Diawara, Karim Matmour and Ersan Gülüm came into the starting eleven for the match against the Mariners, and Johan Absalonsen might also be ready to go in tomorrow night’s FFA Cup final in Sydney.

Add to that the Sydney FC players having just three days to back up from their A-League match against Newcastle on rain-sodden turf and perhaps fortune has smiled on Kurz’ quest to win a trophy early in his tenure.

Nevertheless, you can bet the Sky Blues will be motivated. They can emulate Melbourne Victory’s feat (of 2015) of winning three trophies in a calendar year.

And, make no mistake, they’re still grumpy that the FFA Cup was the one honour that eluded them during their record-breaking 2016-17 season; a defeat made more bitter by the Sydney-centric FFA’s uncharacteristic decision to give home ground advantage in the final to eventual winner Melbourne City.

This time they will play the decider at home: Sydney Football Stadium, where the regular attendance is roughly five people and a dog.

Several theories have been put forward to explain why Sydney FC rarely attract big crowds, particularly as last season’s team was the most dominant in A-League history.

Some point to the location of the ground (though it’s not a bad stadium) as it’s not on a train line; others blame match scheduling or the city’s inclement weather.

Even the old chestnuts about people preferring other sports don’t hold; rugby league in Sydney doesn’t get turnstiles clicking like AFL does in the southern capitals.

I have my own hypothesis. Sydney FC is the team of the establishment; people who run, have run or have tried to run the game in this country. And as the presence of Sky Blues supporters on social media seems disproportionately high, I reckon they’re somewhere on the harbour during matches, tweeting with their phones and watching on their iPads.

And I know I can’t point to any evidence to back that up but as an explanation it’s much more fun than any of the others I’ve seen so I’m sticking with it.

One thing that’s easier to demonstrate is that a lot of fans around the country are about as fond of Sydney FC as I am so you can safely count on neutrals backing the Reds tomorrow night. Even many supporters of our traditional rival, Melbourne Victory, will see a South Australian triumph as the lesser of two evils.

That can’t help United on the pitch and, fortunately, Sydney FC’s record in big matches against the Reds shouldn’t help it either.

The last meeting between the two teams in the A-League finals took place in May 2015 – though it seems longer ago. We didn’t know it at the time but it was Josep Gombau’s last competitive match as United’s manager.

Tarek Elrich played that night but injury will keep him out of tomorrow’s Reds squad. Paul Izzo and Michael Marrone were both unused substitutes.

Sydney FC rolled to a 4-1 win on that occasion with Alex Brosque scoring twice. He’s still wearing Sky Blue. Sebastian Ryall is the only other chap who played for that evening’s winners who might be in their squad tomorrow.

Before that, you have to go back to the A-League’s first season, 2005-6, for finals encounters between Adelaide United and Sydney FC. Those games didn’t go our way either.

Amazingly (well, I think it’s amazing) David Carney played in those matches. Since then, he’s found his way to several different clubs in several different countries. But he returned to Sydney last year.

For what it’s worth, United has won its two previous encounters with the Sky Blues in the FFA Cup. On their way to victory in 2014 – the competition’s first edition – the Reds recorded an extra time win in an away quarter-final against Sydney FC.

A year later, the two sides met in the round of 16 at Hindmarsh. The match went to extra time again and was decided by a Dylan McGowan goal. We all remember it thanks to the stunning rabona by Marcelo Carrusca that set it up.

With last week’s World Cup qualification being the focus of Australia’s soccer landscape, tomorrow night’s final might have an ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ feel to it.

But while it doesn’t carry premiership/championship glory, both teams will be desperate to win. Each year only two domestic finals offer a trophy to the winner; the FFA Cup decider is one of them.

And maybe, after a difficult few weeks, things might have fallen into place for Adelaide United just in time.

Paul Marcuccitti is InDaily’s soccer columnist.

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