2021/22 A-League Men Season Review: Adelaide United

Craig Goodwin celebrating sealing yet another late comeback with his teammates, this time away against Sydney FC (Image: Adelaide United; Design: Will Cuckson)

Despite experts predicting a bleak season for Adelaide United, Carl Veart’s comeback kids had different ideas. A strong end to the season saw the Reds claim and win a home final before falling agonizingly short of a grand final appearance.

Adelaide United saw some significant names depart in the preseason, with Ryan Strain, Jordan Elsey, Tomi Juric, and Al Hassan Toure some of the names that made their way through the exit door, but it did not end there. The Reds had to deal with outgoing transfers during season 2021/22 with Ben Halloran and captain Stefan Mauk making their way South Korea and Japan respectively while assistant coach Ross Aloisi took a job as Kevin Muscat’s assistant at Yokohama F. Marinos.

The incoming move that made headlines was the return of championship winner and former captain Isaias. Former Red George Blackwood also returned from Oldham Athletic while Nick Ansell and Jacob Tratt provided defensive reinforcement.

As a result of injuries and outgoing transfers, the Reds were forced into a busy midseason transfer period. Lachlan Barr signed as an injury replacement for Nick Ansell from NPL SA Champions Adelaide City, while Hiroshi Ibusuki, Lachlan Brook, and Zach Clough replaced Kusini Yengi (injury), Ben Halloran (transfer), and Stefan Mauk (transfer). Damian Mori signed with the club as an interim assistant coach to help close friend Carl Veart replace Ross Aloisi on the bench.

The Highs

Season 2021/2022 was comeback season for Adelaide United, with the Reds rescuing a historic amount of points in the last 15 minutes of game time throughout the campaign, with that period of the game affectionately renamed “Veart Time” by supporters.

Be it three comebacks that resulted in two draws and a win against defending champions Melbourne City, being outplayed in Newcastle but escaping with three points after two late goals or effectively ending Sydney FC’s season in Kogarah with two late goals, the Reds had plenty of highlights and they usually came late.

Most pleasing of all for Reds fans was their side staying true to character and overachieving once again. After many pundits predicted a bleak campaign for the South Australians, Carl Veart’s men managed to claim and win a home final, before pushing Melbourne City in a fight for a grand final spot.

The Lows

After a disappointing start to the campaign, no one would have been surprised if the Reds dropped tools and accepted their predicted fate, one of a squad that was deemed to have insufficient quality to appear in finals. Carl Veart’s charges showed resilience and ended up finishing fourth on the ladder, but Reds fans can look at the start of the season as a missed opportunity.

With the Reds’ season eventually deemed a success, it is easy to forget that they actually only won one of their first eight games. Digging itself out of that hole is an achievement for Adelaide, but only finishing six points away from the Premier’s plate has to sting, especially since two of the sides that Adelaide dropped points against early being Perth and Brisbane who both finished the season at the bottom of the ladder.

Adelaide United faced Melbourne City five times in season 2021/22, and despite the reigning champions being everyone’s fancy in each matchup, the Reds did not finish a 90 minute game as losers in any of the encounters. Carl Veart and his side would be disappointed to be eventually knocked out by a side it did not lose to in regular time all season as a result of a momentary lapse of concentration in the opening minutes of extra time in the second leg of their semi final bout.

Despite Adelaide United receiving a pass mark from its supporters and the broader football community, a sore point remains that in its four encounters against heated rivals Melbourne Victory, the Reds went winless. Despite sweeping Victory last season, the Reds were only able to pickup one draw, losing twice to the Victorians in the league while also exiting the Australia Cup at the hands of Tony Popovic’s rejuvenated side.

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MVP

After a premature end to season 2020/21 and a slightly late arrival in season 2021/22, both as a result of injury, the Craig Goodwin show was back and firing on all cylinders, with the Socceroo reminding the league of the immense quality he possesses.

The Reds recorded 38 goals as a team in the regular season; Goodwin contributed to 18 of those, scoring ten and assisting a further eight. Goodwin is as influential as any player in the competition, but those are fantastic numbers for a winger that came into the season recovering from an injury that ended his previous campaign and hampered his preseason.

Goodwin’s influence was further amplified when captain Stefan Mauk exited the Club, with the burden of the armband assigned to the Socceroo. It is extremely rare to see a loanee receive such an honour, but the respect Goodwin commands in the Adelaide United locker room is unrivalled, with the winger not taking long to prove he was the right choice to lead the club.

Leading his side to a finals appearance was a fantastic achievement but the milestones kept coming. Goodwin broke Bruce Djite’s record to become Adelaide United’s all-time top goal scorer, emulating his predecessor by breaking the record while scoring a double away to Sydney FC.

With his form earning him a return to the Australian National Team setup, Goodwin also recorded his first senior international goal in a World Cup Qualifier against Vietnam.

Breakout Player

Adelaide United had three young stars fully integrate into its first team set up in season 2021/22 and they can all hold their heads up high, making a mark on the A-League Men competition as teenagers.

Bernardo Oliveira followed his father’s footsteps, becoming a fan favourite in Adelaide and spending the whole season with the A-Leagues squad, less than a year after returning to South Australia from Melbourne City. The tricky winger participated in 23 league matches and contributed with three goals and two assists.

Nestory Irankunda’s irresistible NPL SA form earned him a go at the big time, with the winger completing a mind blowing transformation from NPL Reserves to making an impact at A-Leagues level in less than a year. Despite not starting any of his 13 games and only averaging 15 minutes per match, the mercurial 16-year old recorded three important, stunning goals in the A-League Men competition.

Finally, with all but one senior center back unavailable, Carl Veart called upon Alex Popovic to make his A-Leagues debut, with the young defender grabbing the opportunity with both hands. The experienced defenders returned to fitness, but Popovic did not surrender his spot, being a key contributor to Adelaide’s late season winning streak and accumulation of clean sheets.

Irankunda and Popovic impressed so much that they were selected to play for the A-League All-Stars against Barcelona, a scenario that both youngsters would not have imagine in their wildest dreams a year prior.

The Final Word

After losing important players before and during the season and having his squad’s capabilities questioned by outsiders, Carl Veart would be proud of his side’s ability to shake off a slow start to record a successful campaign.

Adelaide United has blended youth and experience and with a tight budget and has outperformed some of the big spending clubs in the league, finishing above all three Sydney based clubs. Despite the Reds making overachieving a habit, everyone involved with the club would be slightly disappointed that they could not make the A-League Men Grand Final despite giving Melbourne City a run for its money.

At the end of the day, despite the lack of silverware, the Reds were able to achieve their target of a top three finish, after finals, along with incorporating up and coming youth into the first team, while also managing injuries and outgoing transfers with success.

Season 2022/23 will be one of uncertainty for Adelaide United, with the Pelligra Group having reportedly purchased the club, fans will be keen to see how the new owners invest in the club, on and off the field. Craig Goodwin’s future being the most important issue to deal with, with the Reds desperate to keep their captain on a permanent basis.

Everyone in Adelaide will be united with one goal next season, and that is silverware. Despite operating on a tight budget, Josep Gombau, Guillermo Amor, Marco Kurz, and Gertjan Verbeek have been able to bring trophies to Hindmarsh, Carl Veart has had two solid years as a rookie coach, but he will be hoping he can further solidify his legacy by adding his name to club folklore once again, this time as coach.

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About Antonis Pagonis 54 Articles
A teacher from Adelaide who enjoys all things football.

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