The first round of the 2022-23 A-League Men campaign is now in the books, after 10 of the 12 teams played over the weekend. Casting his eye across the landscape, ESPN's Joey Lynch breaks down four things that impressed and four things that didn't across the last weekend.
Relegated to a bench role behind Ben Folami, Nick D'Agostino, Jake Brimmer and Nani in Melbourne Victory's attack, Ikonomidis quickly provided a reminder of his own significant talent in Saturday's 3-2 Big Blue win.
After being brought on as a 62nd-minute substitute for Folami, Ikonomidis was on hand at the back post to turn in an inch-perfect cross from Nani to put Victory ahead 2-1 and then turned provider by laying the table for Josh Brillante's 83rd-minute winner.
Coming off the back of a season in which he struggled mightily with his fitness, which wasn't helped by the significant amount of time he had to spend in hotel quarantine after representing the Socceroos in World Cup qualifiers on the eve of the season, Ikonomidis return to form has flown somewhat under the radar heading into this season. This was exacerbated by Nani's signing and the emergence of Victory's young attacking talent.
However, at 27, Ikonomidis is ostensibly now in the prime of his career and having already been capped 17-times for the national team, he can't be ruled out of a World Cup berth if moves into Victory's starting lineup and continues to rack up goals and assists.
Cardiologists in the greater Adelaide area
Adelaide United and late-game drama, name a more iconic duo. The Reds once again left it very, very, very late against the Wellington Phoenix in their 1-1 draw on Sunday afternoon with Ben Halloran netting a 93rd-minute leveller to ensure Carl Veart's side would take a point with them back across the Tasman.
Per Australian football stats doyen Andy Howe, the Reds were able to secure a win after the 85th-minute mark of games in 2021-22 -- two of these from losing positions -- as well as salvage three draws in that span. And thanks to Halloran, they're already of the mark for late drama in 2022-23.
The salvaged point will likely obfuscate a performance in which the Reds lacked creativity and largely resorted to spamming crosses into the box against an opponent with a one-player disadvantage for an hour. Nonetheless, while it would be better to avoid these situations in the first place the Reds continued ability to remain in games until the very end and somehow find a way to continue to take points from these affairs can't be considered a weakness.
Arriving on loan at Melbourne City from Ligue 1 club Reims after previously spending time at Lazio and Fortuna Dusseldorf in the preceding season, and as a player capped over 50 times by Norway and then Kosovo, Berisha has the type of resume to suggest he should dominate the Australian top-flight.
And while there were some clear signs of rust -- not surprising in the first week of the season -- and an ongoing adjustment and familiarisation period in coach Patrick Kisnorbo's system, Berisha's performance against Western United on Friday suggested that he's going to quickly prove a major difference maker for his new side this season; flashing combinations of sublime skill and touch as well as physicality. He was also unlucky to be pinged by the VAR for a foul on Ben Garuccio on his new side's would-be first goal of the campaign, but fortunately, it didn't affect the result.
The new Sydney Football Stadium
The actual football match didn't end the way that its new tenants would have liked, but the new Sydney Football Stadium impressed in its ALM bow in the Big Blue. Football fans had already got a taste of it when the Matildas hosted Canada, but the pre-game show and atmosphere produced in the stadium were excellent. Further, having a world-class home to consistently rest their head rather than use a variety of grounds should ostensibly also give the Sky Blues a major boost this season.
Of course, having a nice stadium to play in is only part of the battle, especially in stadiums with large capacities like the near 50,000-seater SFS -- more on that later. The challenge for the Sky Blues now is ensuring that they can keep the punters coming back for more throughout the season to help try to reproduce Saturday's atmosphere throughout the remainder of the season.
Tilio, Cummings and Kuol's World Cup hopes
Alas for Central Coast Mariners' Jason Cummings and Garang Kuol, neither got the chance to impress in round one of the season after their game against the Newcastle Jets was washed out by torrential rain in Gosford. With his call-up to the Young Socceroos confirmed on Monday, Kuol has now had at least a third of his opportunities to impress wiped out, while Cummings' target of "Six games, six goals," will now need some adjustment.
Marco Tilio's game, meanwhile, went ahead but commenced with him on the bench: the 21-year-old was forced to wait until the 73rd minute to start his season for City but, by then, the win was already assured. Alas for the attacker, he did have a golden chance to net a goal anyway but fluffed his lines at the last. Socceroos boss Graham Arnold on hand to witness the situation and Tilio's bench role at City -- which, based on the form of the starters, won't change for next week's game against Brisbane Roar -- could serve to scupper his World Cup hopes.
Tilio starting on the bench obviously a big #Socceroos talking point from the contest. I asked Patrick Kisnorbo about the thought process leaving him on the bench for the season opener. pic.twitter.com/C3WkUBujEa— Joey Lynch (@joeylynchy) October 7, 2022
The Bulls' attack
Winners of the Australia Cup and possessing a fierce collection of skilful and creative attacking talent, Macarthur had generated a significant amount of excitement ahead of the season, with some being so bold as to label them as dark horses for the title. After the Bulls' 0-0 draw with Brisbane, though, a bit of lustre has been knocked off that shine.
Dwight Yorke's side couldn't find their rhythm on Saturday and, with Roar coach Warren Moon stretching the field with wing-backs that had a licence to roam, were increasingly broken into two different defensive and attacking units rather than forming a cohesive hole. On the bench on Saturday, Lachlan Rose and Kearyn Baccus would be worth experimenting with against Adelaide next weekend.
As the opening game of the ALM season, featuring the defending champions against the defending premiers and with a number of Socceroos set to feature, City and Western's meeting ticked a lot of theoretical boxes on the marketing checklist, but ultimately only drew 7,501 fans -- not the kind of showpiece the leagues would have wanted to its opening act, even if the Big Blue the following night was the contest that was actually on free-to-air television.
What magnified this issue, though, is that the pair were playing at a 30k-capacity stadium rather than a smaller venue in their identified heartland. The next day in Brisbane, the Roar drew 8,521 fans for their game with Macarthur -- which itself is a pretty decent crowd for the side given the overarching context -- at 52,000 capacity Lang Park.
The continued dearth of intimate, specialty venues to host its sides isn't a new issue for ALM -- it's one of the reasons why Western's continued lack of progress on their stadium is such a sore point -- and round one provided a reminder of why it's such a crucial area.
For all the good stuff that came out of the season-opening Big Blue, it was unfortunately marred by a bottle-throwing incident late in the game as Victory goalkeeper Paul Izzo looked to drain a few extra seconds off the clock.
Beyond being a moronic act in and of itself as it enabled the visiting custodian to waste more time clearing the field, it was dangerous and disrespectful. A football pitch is a workplace for the 22 players on it, and nobody deserves to be made to feel unsafe or have objects thrown at them at work. Further, it was later revealed that one of the bottles hit a 12-year-old ball kid stationed behind the goals and, while they weren't injured, it shows just why this act needs to be stamped out -- a child volunteering to help their club put in harm's way by people that supposedly support that same club.
Sydney FC's active support group The Cove has since come out with a statement -- a positive and commendable step -- even though responsibility ultimately lies with Sydney as per Football Australia rules.
"Each week Football Australia reviews any on-field and off-field incidents arising from the A-Leagues, including spectator conduct," a federation spokesperson told ESPN. "Such incidents are managed in accordance with the A-Leagues Disciplinary Regulations and National Code of Conduct and Ethics."