The A-League is back! Here are the biggest talking points from an opening round that saw Western United win their inaugural match and Sydney FC shoot to the top of the table.
The under-23 rule
Football Federation Australia announced Friday that A-League regulations had been amended to allow two extra substitutes on the bench in order to encourage more under-23 players to be in matchday squads. When comparing theory to practice and reality, the narrative that younger players will now receive more chances seems false. More numbers on benches won't impact the overall lack of faith coaches in A-League seem to have in young talent or their inclination to not risk trusting them.
When the Y-League starts later this year, players under the age of 23 actually run the risk of being denied 90 minutes on a regular basis just to sit on an A-League bench and wait for the chance to come on for junk minutes as a substitute.
There was something symbolic in Melbourne Victory's Brandon Lauton and Benjamin Carrigan being parked on the Bunnings chairs while the rest sat on the cushioned seats on Saturday. Then there was Luke Ivanovic coming on as a substitute for a few minutes, only when Sydney had the result in their pocket on Friday.
Something something path, something something good intentions.
McGowan's winner and Adelaide's defending
It's the A-League, so of course we hit A-League Bingo in the first 90 minutes of the season: A VAR-assisted penalty *pops collar*, handbags, a red card and four goals before a late winner. The reigning champions carved Adelaide up in transition whenever the opportunity presented in Friday's 3-2 win. Despite the Reds getting back to 2-2 after conceding twice in the opening 30 minutes, that threat was always there.
From how Adelaide tried to cover Milos Ninkovic and Alexander Baumjohann to create Joel King's delivery that led to the penalty and opening goal to Michael Jakobsen's initially charging out before Ryan Strain's red card, Sydney were gifted the ascendancy.
The cherry on top, however, was Sydney's 87th-minute winner. Nine of the 10 players Adelaide had on the pitch were in the 6-yard area, both denying goalkeeper Paul Izzo freedom of movement and allowing Ryan McGowan free run at the ball from the top of the box. When zonal defending at set pieces goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong, but that's unacceptable at any level.
Daniel De Silva and Sam Silvera: #goodplayers
It's here that I must admit I have a soft spot for the more diminutive, technically adept kind of footballer. As long as Daniel De Silva and Sam Silvera are together and prominent on the pitch, Central Coast will remain in games. Being competitive and actually winning games can become separate topics, but considering recent years in Gosford, that's an improvement. It then becomes a matter of realisation because opportunities to truly threaten an opposition defence will come. In a league notorious for coaches mostly allergic to risk, Alen Stajcic was assertive with the game in the balance at 1-1, and only five minutes passed in the second half.
The move to bring Silvera on for Giancarlo Gallifuoco, despite the 2-1 loss to Western Sydney, impacted the complexion of the game. Central Coast had the better of the Wanderers for significant portions of the second half and arguably should have gone ahead at Bankwest Stadium. De Silva and Silvera, as long as numbers move around the ball, will continue to be able to get the collective closer to goal. It was a positive opening performance from the Mariners.
Victory and City's inverted full-back
As a whole, the Melbourne derby 0-0 draw on Saturday was not very exciting. Yet there was an element of the match that was interesting, with respect to how City attempted to penetrate and how Victory didn't even bother to nullify that threat.
Although Harrison Delbridge's man-of-the-match performance deserves some note, how Melbourne City both did and didn't utilise Scott Jamieson provided confusion. The tactic was clearly effective, and it was clearly helping Josh Brillante, who was otherwise lost in early phases of possession at the base of midfield.
The very idea of such a tactic, conceptually, is to overtly force the defence to adjust, then exploit that adjustment. Moves and countermoves. Victory had their own issues stopping City playing through them until the final whistle that were borne of poor defensive coverage. Responsibility was shirked. As a consequence, City had the possibility to really turn the screw by more regular implementation. Reflective of the match as a whole, however, they didn't want to risk too much. The game's complexion, in spite of overall lethargy, was nevertheless a suitable reference point.
In a week when professionals who are actually paid to write about this sport saw fit to make fun of Scott McDonald's time with the Socceroos after Harry Souttar's brace on debut, his display on Sunday was a perfect response.
Along with Dario Jertec and Alessandro Diamanti (be still my beating heart), the 36-year-old was pivotal as Western United claimed a 1-0 win away to Wellington Phoenix in their first match. If not for Stefan Marinovic's save, McDonald's top-corner-bound effort in the 87th minute -- after that wonderful first touch at the start of the move -- would have been a deserved punctuation mark on the performance.
The brain is more important than any other muscle on a football pitch. Within the collective's intent to affect tempo, the 36-year-old's intuitive movements provided avenues for Diamanti and Jertec to penetrate in phases of possession, and his touches and passes incorporated the likes of Connor Pain and goal scorer Besart Berisha. There was no shortage of defensive work. A whole two decades since his appearance in the National Soccer League (per Andrew Howe), it was a welcome return for the unconventional No. 9.
A chicken and egg argument exists within almost every passing action in football. Does a pass make the pass or movement off the ball? One's brain can turn into scrambled egg thinking about what constitutes the primary element, but generally, one can't exist without the other. And then there's la pausa. For those unfamiliar, type into your search bar with the name Bochini. Perth Glory's Bruno Fornaroli used it to wonderful effect against Brisbane Roar on Sunday to set up Chris Ikonomidis' opening goal.
Following Scott Neville's scuffed attempt to clear, the Uruguayan holds off Tom Aldred while bringing the ball down. To bring the ball under control was nice enough, but Aldred, Neville and Aiden O'Neill surround Fornaroli with his back to goal.
While all this is happening, Fornaroli turns slightly to face the centre of the pitch, prompting Diego Castro to dart into unoccupied space. It all happens within the space of seconds, but Fornaroli is baiting and waiting for the ideal moment to pass and take three Brisbane defenders out of play. Castro quickly responds, and Fornaroli deftly delivers before the assist to Ikonomidis.
A slight, beautiful moment of interaction from practically nothing: It's good to have the A-League back.