The A-League season kicks off with the Melbourne Derby on October 12. Michael Witheford looks at the local combatants
Titles: Two; 2006-07, 2008-09
Supporter groups: North Terrace, South End
What’s news? Two potential marquee signings fell through. Ex-Italian international Fabrizio Miccoli or Greek international Giorgis Karagounis would have been awesome. Victory have lost two stars – Kiwi international Marco Rojas to the German Bundesliga, and creative midfielder Billy Celeski to the UAE – but welcome the return from injury of Brazilian playmaker Gui Finkler and Ivory Coast-born defender Adama Traore, who will hopefully soon be an Australian citizen and Socceroo. Connor Pain will take on the Rojas role up forward and has shown he may well be up to the task. The most crucial re-signing is national team defensive midfielder Mark Milligan, who absolutely had to stay put or the whole thing might have gone arse over. English Premier League club Crystal Palace failed in their offer. How cool is that?
Chances: Victory’s weakness has been a leaky defence and the youngsters at the back are unproven. If they don’t concede soft goals as they are wont to do, Victory will easily sit in the top four. A late marquee signing may make them the best squad in the competition. In Ange Postecoglou they have by far the best coach. And they have Archie Thompson who even people who hate soccer still love.
Titles: Not yet
Supporter group: Yarraside
What’s news? The club has been dealt the cruellest blow with their marquee signing from PSV Eindhoven, Orlando Engelaar, suffering a broken leg in a practice match. His return can’t be predicted. Someone who has returned, after failing to secure a deal overseas, and changed sides, is Harry Kewell who will be …um…warmly received by Victory fans when he fronts up in the colours of the enemy. (You may well see one of his personalised MV shirts set fire to. I mean you spend all that money…) Harry can still be a game-changer. Any team he’s part of is dangerous for his presence alone. Aziz Behich is back from Turkey too. Young guns like Mate Dugandzic provide firepower, but defensively the team is a little light on. John Aloisi is still finding his feet as coach.
Chances: Even while waiting for Engelaar the Heart should hang-in around mid-table, and perhaps rise up if the elements gel.
The overall verdict
Last year’s champions Central Coast Mariners still look formidable with their strike force of Danny McBreen, Matt Simon and Mile Sterjovski. The signing of the mercurial Marcos Flores, who failed to fire at Victory could make them the team to watch. Western Sydney Wanderers should back up their phenomenal first season as beaten grand-finalists with another strong showing. Adelaide, Newcastle Jets, and Wellington Phoenix don’t seem to have much to frighten the rest of the competition. Perth Glory are solid enough, but Sydney FC even with superstar Allesandro del Piero pulling the strings look like they might struggle. (Let’s hope so, eh?)
Time Out's predicted champtions: Central Coast Mariners
Runners-up: Melbourne Victory
Melbourne Derby is at Etihad Stadium, Docklands. Sat Oct 12, 7.30pm.