15/04/2024

Adelaide United finished fifth in Carl Veart's first full season in charge. Picture: adelaideunited.com.au

A rollercoaster season for Adelaide United has come to an end and upon review, it looms as the first step towards a bright future.

Finishing Position: 5th (39 points, 11 wins, six draws, nine losses)

The highs

There’s nothing quite like beating your rivals in their own backyard and Adelaide United fans will long remember the 3-1 win over Victory at Marvel Stadium.

Captain Stefan Mauk led the way with a brace after United went down 1-0 midway through the first half. Youngster Kusini Yengi then put the icing on the cake, netting his first A-League goal and celebrating in front of the Victory faithful.

It was a season that saw Victory languishing at the foot of the table for the most part but United realised how dangerous the game could be. To get that win and continue a rich run of form was crucial to securing their finals position.

United finished in fifth position, meaning they had fourth-placed Brisbane Roar in an elimination final. If the task was not difficult enough, throw in a host of injuries, including one to marquee player Craig Goodwin on the eve of the clash.

Tomi Juric put United up 2-0 in the first half with a quickfire double and Veart’s side held on for a famous 2-1 win away from home.

The lows

The Reds went through their fair share of hot and cold streaks across the year as they battled for consistency with such a young side.

One of these was a three game losing streak in early January, culminating in a 4-0 drubbing against Macarthur away from home.

The two most frustrating results for fans, though, came at the hands of Perth Glory. Perth, who would go on to finish outside of the top six, came from behind to snatch victory from United on two occassions.

The first came at Coopers Stadium as United went into the half-time break a goal up with captain Stefan Mauk throwing a few choice words the way of Glory midfielder Neil Kilkenny at the interval.

Mid-way through the second half, the Reds made a host of substitutions and went on to concede two goals in 10 minutes, costing the home side a vital three points.

In the reverse fixture, United played their best half of football for the year and absolutely dominated the Glory on their own pitch.

It was a familiar story, though, as the Reds failed to capitalise on a strong early performance and succumbed to a second half comeback from Richard Garcia’s men.

Such collapses are perhaps to be expected from time to time and if any positive can be taken it’s that this young squad now has experience to draw on when they find themselves in a similar position in the future.

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MVP

At the Adelaide United end of season awards ceremony, Ben Halloran was crowned as the club’s MVP and received the Aurelio Vidmar Medal for season 20/21.

His consistent efforts throughout the year were well rewarded with this honour, the winger starting in all 28 of United’s league games this year including both finals contests.

He scored four goals and set up five and was a constant threat for the Reds, even filling in as the striker late in games when Tomi Juric or Kusini Yengi were subbed off.

Perhaps an equally deserving winner of this award, though, would have been left-sided winger Craig Goodwin, who re-joined the club on loan early in the season.

Goodwin was instrumental in the run of form that propelled United into top two contention as he hit the ground running, scoring four times in his first five games.

He finished the campaign with eight goals and five assists and Adelaide United fans will long wonder what could have been had he not gone down with an ankle injury in the lead-up to the Elimination Final.

Goodwin has expressed his desire to stay with the Reds, though has stressed that where he plays his football is in the hands of his parent club, Al-Wehda.

Breakout player

Kusini Yengi stole the headlines against the Victory for his match-winning goal and equally as entertaining celebration.

He showed maturity beyond his years in his response to being exposed to the worst that football has to offer when he was subsequently racially vilified on social media.

To not mention him in this category would be a crime as he was instrumental up top when former Socceroo, Tomi Juric, went down with injury, however there is another Red that outperformed expectations.

Josh Cavallo arrived in Adelaide in February after an unsuccessful stint with Western United.

His deal was due to expire at the end of the season but United elected to offer him a two year extension after the 21-year-old showed his value game after game.

Signed as a central midfielder, Cavallo ended up playing almost every position on the pitch, his versatility a key as Adelaide United suffered a number of injuries throughout a tricky campaign.

He arguably played his best football filling in as a fullback for the injured Javi Lopez and Ryan Strain but his composure made him a regular fixture in the middle of United’s midfield.

Cavallo impressed so much that Adelaide United’s active support group, the Red Army, voted him as their player of the year for season 2020/21.

Picture: Red Army Facebook page

Final word

It was a season that brought with it continuously changing expectations as Adelaide United went from mid-table, to finals contenders, to potential premiers and eventually landed in fifth position.

Though a top two finish was thrown away, Reds fans can take solace in the fact that this was the first full year with a promising crop of players.

Adelaide United boasts one of the youngest squads in the league and throughout the year had a number of these young players contribute in vital moments.

Delianov and Gauci showed their potential in net, Cavallo and Caletti brought much needed fresh legs to the midfield and the Toure brothers, along with Yengi, showed signs of true quality up front.

Stefan Mauk had a productive first season as captain and grew into the leadership position as the season went on.

What Djite and Veart have created at Coopers is to be admired. A fresh focus on youth and the development of local players has reinvigorated the United supporters.

The club takes with it a strong sense of optimism into 2021/22, provided the trend of making the right moves continues.

Bruce Djite has moved on but his ideology looks set to stay as Veart remains at the helm, with a strong, likeable and exuberant young squad at his disposal.

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