23/04/2024

There's plenty to look forward to in the upcoming A-League Men season. (Photos: Melbourne Victory; Allianz Stadium; KEEPUP)

With a far earlier start to the 2022/23 A-League Men season compared to the last, the off season has flown by.

There is now just under one month until Western United and Melbourne City start the season off at AAMI Park on Friday, October 7. To celebrate, here are 10 things you should be excited about this football season.

1. Huge opening round full of rivalries

To kick things off in what is sure to be a huge season of Australian football, the APL has blessed us with some mouthwatering clashes in the season opening weekend.

It all starts off with an all Victorian Grand Final rematch between Western United and Melbourne City under Friday night lights, before a Saturday of fierce rivalries back to back.

At 5pm in Gosford it will be Central Coast and Newcastle doing battle in the F3 Derby before the showpiece event begins.

The Big Blue – Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory on a Saturday night in the new and improved Allianz Stadium; could you ask for a more perfect way to christen the venue? All eyes will be on this game and a big crowd is inevitable.

2. Ninkovic to Western Sydney

There might only have been one better way to welcome Allianz Stadium, an all Sydney Derby. The fixture is always an eye catcher, but this season there will be even more reason to watch when Sydney hosts the Wanderers.

Milos Ninkovic is a Sydney FC icon, having played 181 games for the Sky Blues including three winning grand finals. So to see him in the red and black this season is sure to raise the blood pressure of Sydney FC fans when he rolls into Moore Park Road in Round 6. Expect sparks (and flares) to fly.

3. A-League on during the World Cup knockouts

Whilst the A-Leagues come to a swift halt on November 13 after six rounds to make way for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, it will return the night before the quarter finals when Brisbane Roar hosts Adelaide United on December 9.

Australia will no doubt be infected with football fever after what is hopefully a successful group stage for the Socceroos.

This is the perfect time to resume the league, and it will keep fans awake before the 2am matches. It is a great initiative from the APL and it should see more eyes on the league than normal.

4. Dwight Yorke managing Macarthur FC

We were treated to a glimpse of Yorke’s coaching back in May when he took on the job of the A-League All Stars coach up against Barcelona, but now he will be in full swing in Campbelltown. 

The inaugural Joe Marston Medalist is returning to New South Wales after his stint with Sydney FC back in the very first season of the A-League.

He scored just seven goals in Sky Blue, so he will definitely be feeling like he has something to prove in the A-League Men. His first senior coaching job with the newest team in the competition is at the very least going to be worth following.

5. Covid-free football

For the first time since the 2018/19 A-Leagues seasons, it is expected that this season will be without interruptions or restrictions due to Covid-19.

This means a season without matches crammed into the Wednesday 5pm time slot just to get them played; it means Perth Glory won’t be hosting games at the UTAS Stadium; and most importantly, it means large crowds can and very well may finally return to the stands.

It means more clarity on fixturing for fans looking to travel interstate, and a consistent fixture and proper amount of rest between games should result in a higher quality product overall both on and off the pitch.

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6. Active support

On the topic of fans, active support has been held back in the previous years due to restrictions, so we can hope to see it back to its best this year.

Original Style Melbourne set the standard last season, packing out the Northern end of AAMI Park almost every week as well as travelling interstate in huge numbers. It will be a treat to see and hear them again, while we can hope that a return to true home for Sydney FC will have the Cove back to its best.

Western Sydney Wanderers’ active group RBB are looking promising this season too, with big away trips already being planned, as well as on field success for Melbourne City and Western United hopefully equating to a more consistent turnout from the City Terrace and Western Service Crew.

Although they don’t come without their issues, active support groups are part of the lifeblood of A-League clubs, bringing the atmosphere to game day along with genuine raw passion.

7. Young Aussies making their World Cup claims

The A-League Men is packed with young Australian talent, but five names stand out amongst the rest as players who are firmly in the running for a place in Graham Arnold’s squad.

Marco Tilio, 21 (Melbourne City) and Nick D’Agostino, 24 (Melbourne Victory) are coming into this season off the back of career best years and were capped during the World Cup qualifiers. Tilio finished the 21/22 season with five goals and five assists, whilst D’Agostino ended his campaign with a neat 10 goals. 

Next up is Jake Brimmer, 24 (Melbourne Victory). Fresh from a season with seven goals and seven assists as well as the Johnny Warren Medal for the league’s best player, it is a mystery how the midfielder hasn’t been capped already. It’ll be a big couple of months for him coming up as he makes his claims to be included.

As controversial as it may be, Daniel Arzani, 23 (Macarthur FC) can not be left out of this conversation.  After rupturing his ACL in his first appearance at Celtic FC where he had been loaned to by Manchester City, Arzani’s career has been far from desirable.

He has managed 28 club appearances since 2018 across five clubs, and now finds himself out of Pep Guardiola’s hands and into the control of Dwight Yorke at Macarthur FC – quite a change of scenery.

However, his talent can not be ignored and his performance for the Olyroos in last year’s Olympic Games reminded us all just how good he can be. A strong start to his time at Macarthur may just see him become a World Cup bolter for the second time.

Finally, although many may have guessed, Garang Kuol, 17 (Central Coast Mariners) is a name that has to be included in a discussion such as this.

If there was only one thing to be excited about this season, it would be watching Kuol play before he jets off to a giant club, with Barcelona and Chelsea among the names of clubs reportedly interested in him.

He lit up the league last season with four goals and an assist in just nine appearances, and put on a show in front of 60,000+ against Barcelona in the A-League All Stars match.

He may be the closest thing Australia has to a generational talent, and watching him make his Socceroos claims in the opening six weeks will be must watch television.

All five of these players among many more will have their eyes firmly set on a World Cup call up, and seeing them work for it is going to be among the highlights this season.

8. A genuine golden boot race

Melbourne City’s Jamie Maclaren has stood alone at the top in recent times, winning three golden boots in a row. He will be looking to complete his second pair this season in a City side that is more than capable of piling on the goals.

But it feels as though this season, there are some genuine challengers for the award.

The maturing of Nick D’Agostino, the shock retention of Aleksandar Prijovic, the bolster in midfield for Newcastle to boost Beka Mikeltadze’s service, and most notably the massive signing of Charlie Austin to the Brisbane Roar has set us up for a fantastic golden boot race this season.

The stars are aligning for a highly competitive season for the A-League Men’s top goal scoring honours, and Austin’s strong pre-season is sure to have Maclaren feeling the heat.

9. Luis Nani. Enough said

Charlie Austin is a big signing, but Melbourne Victory have gone even bigger. Luis Nani – 112 appearances and a Euro win with Portugal, 147 appearances for Manchester United where he won four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, and a Champions League.

At 35-years-old, the skilful winger is still going strong, most recently playing in the Serie A with Venezia.

It is surely the biggest name the A-League Men has seen since Alessandro Del Piero signed for Sydney FC 10 years ago. 

He has joined the biggest club in the league in Melbourne Victory, which is at the top of its game right now with a squad bursting with talent and a stadium full of fans. All eyes will be on AAMI Park when Nani’s side host Western Sydney Wanderers on October 15: box office.

10. Football back at Suncorp Stadium

Although the Moreton Daily Stadium in Redcliffe is exactly what A-Leagues fans have been crying out for more of – compact, rectangular stadiums – it would be a lie to say Suncorp Stadium hasn’t been missed.

So many classic A-League Men’s finals and moments have taken place there, so it will be a breath of fresh air to see it return on three occasions this season. Brisbane Roar will host Macarthur, Melbourne City, and Sydney FC at the 52,500 capacity stadium.

The stadium is also in central Brisbane, which will hopefully drive more fans into the matches compared to Redcliffe, which unfortunately is a fair travel for many Roar supporters and members.

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