Adelaide Comets taking on Adelaide City at Marden Sports Complex in the 2021 NPL SA Grand Final (Image: Adam Butler/@8zerokms)

The NPL SA is about to commence, with another intriguing season in store for fans of the local game. With storylines emerging and clubs fighting for titles, redemption, history and their right to remain a part of South Australia's top state competition, we have a look at how each club is set going into Season 2022.

The NPL SA is about to commence, with another intriguing season in store for fans of the local game. With storylines emerging and clubs fighting for titles, redemption, history and their right to remain a part of South Australia’s top state competition, we have a look at how each club is set going into Season…

Can Adelaide City go back-to-back?

Adelaide City showed they meant business in Season 2021 before a ball was even kicked. The off-season acquisition of highly rated coach Paul Pezos signaled an intent to invest in an already strong squad, that was accompanied with the return of former captain Matthew Halliday along with the additions of Charlie Devereux, Kur Kur, Asad Kasumovic, Joseph Costa, Jai King and Daniel Bressan.

Pezos proved why he was trusted with the City job and a free reign when it came to signings by delivering Adelaide City’s first Championship since 2010, with all the players he recruited playing prominent roles in City’s title charge.

Success at the NPL level was rightly rewarded for Asad Kasumovic and Lachlan Barr, both earning an A League Men move to Adelaide United.

Despite the loss in quality, City maintained the core of its championship winning squad and their top quality coach. Pezos has continued acquiring impressive calibre players such as former Adelaide United goal keeper Dakota Ochsenham, Cumberland’s Juan Gutierrez, MetroStars’ Matthew Dawber and Adelaide Croatia Raiders rising star Vianne Kurikwimana.

Season 2021 was the year Adelaide City returned where they belonged. A new season poses new challenges and City should feature heavily amongst the league’s top performers once again, with the aim being repeating their Championship winning efforts and establishing themselves as the consistent benchmark of the league.

Adelaide City celebrating winning the NPL SA 2021 Championship (Image: Adam Butler/@8zerokms)

Can the Adelaide Comets finally capitalise on their consistency when it matters?

It was an awfully familiar story for the Adelaide Comets in Season 2021.

For the second consecutive season, the Comets finished the regular season as premiers. For the third-consecutive season, the Comets reached the Grand Final. For the third consecutive season they endured a Grand Final loss.

The Comets could be excused for running into an irresistible Campbelltown City side who dispatched of the Comets comfortably 3-0 and 3-1 in the 2019 and 2020 Grand Finals to complete their threepeat of NPL SA Championships.

Comets fans would have felt it was meant to be different in 2021.

Snatching the premiership from Adelaide City in the last play of the regular season was certainly a good start, seeing their chief tormentors Campbelltown City knocked out early in the finals series was definitely a sight for sore eyes.

After an away win against City in the first leg of their first final, the Comets’ season once again started unravelling. The Comets were defeated on aggregate by an undermanned Adelaide City at home before, scraping past the plucky Sturt Lions to make their third consecutive Grand Final.

After playing a cagey, scoreless 120 minutes against City, the Comets were once again haunted by the bright lights of the big stage, succumbing to a 3-2 loss in the penalty shootout.

The pressure is starting to build on this talented Comets group and coach Barney Smith. The major change in the squad came with star forward Ninko Beric, who recently exited the club to return to his boyhood, recently promoted, FK Beograd, adequately replaced by Cumberland City talisman Thomas Briscoe along with the addition of talented midfielder Dylan Smith.

With the majority of the squad retained and two quality players inserted, Comets fans will not just be hoping the Club can take the next step on the big stage, they will be expecting it.

The Adelaide Comets experiencing Grand Final heartbreak against Campbelltown City in 2019 (Image: Adam Butler/@8zerokms)

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Second year blues or another step forward?

The Sturt Lions and the South Adelaide Panthers are two sides that would be overjoyed with their first seasons back in the NPL SA competition. Both clubs managed to earn finals positions but the fun did not stop there.

The NPL SA competition was shocked when the Lions knocked out competition heavyweights Metrostars in a penalty shootout. The biggest shock of the first round of finals though came when the Panthers beat the four peat chasing Campbelltown City 1-3 in their own backyard.

A weekend of surprises set up an exciting matchup between the two overachieving newcomers. Sturt once again prevailed in penalties which earned the right to play off against the Comets for a shot to make the Grand Final. Despite eventually going down 1-0 in extra time, Sturt had a season to remember.

The challenge for both these Cinderella stories is ensuring there is no complacency. In a league as competitive as the NPL SA, even being slightly off your game for a short amount of time can have a season altering effect.

Sturt coach Lino Fusco will be hoping that his squad, highlighted by the exciting trio of Alex Sortini, Cooper Mullins and Gonzalo Rodriguez, along with mid-season pickup and former Adelaide United veteran Michael Marrone keep causing headaches for their NPL SA opposition.

When you think South Adelaide you think of a pair of brothers who ripped defences apart in Season 2021. After enduring relegation in 2016, South Adelaide’s previous NPL SA season, Alex and Jonathon Rideout where instrumental for the Panthers in 2021. If the Panthers are to continue being successful, the Rideouts will have to maintain their status as premier players of the competition.

Sturt Lions and South Adelaide getting heated in their final in NPL Season 2021 (Image: Adam Butler/@8zerokms)

Can the heavy hitters get back to where they belong?

Two of the most consistent NPL SA Clubs in the last decade hit stumbling blocks in Season 2021.

Despite looking far from untouchable in the regular season, Campbelltown and Metrostars finished third and fourth on the ladder respectively. The narrative completely changed when both clubs were upset by recently promoted underdogs in the first round of finals in their own homes.

Both clubs have high expectations of their playing groups and have made changes after their seasons ended abruptly.

Campbelltown City parted ways with Iain Fyfe who won titles with the club both as a player and as a coach. His replacement is former Adelaide City manager Michael Matricciani, who is fresh off gaining promotion with Adelaide University from State League Two.

On the playing front, Campbelltown has retained the majority of its threepeat winning squad so it would be backing its experienced group to restore the standard which earned them success over the years. Matricciani has also brought back familiar faces to Campbelltown such as Josh Barresi, Anthony Ture and Yohei Matsumoto along with players he is familiar with from his Adelaide City days in Jordan Maricic, Alex Woodlands and James Boffa.

The MetroStars have lost some quality with Josh Mori departing along with the retirements Stefan Cali and former captain Michael D’Aloisio . Despite that, Metro has a retained the majority of their squad and would be hoping talent like Ariath Piol continue to develop to aid the cause. Like Campbelltown, Metro wasted no time recruiting with Luke Ostbye and Paul Blefari bringing experience to the side and Philip Cash, Jackson Walls and Nicholas Pedicini providing a boost of youth and undeniable talent.

MetroStars have added two unknown commodities to their squad a week out of the season kicking off, with 24-year-old Ren Nagamatsu joining from Japanese club Artista Asama and Cameron Woodfin joining from Tennessee side Chattanooga FC. If the two internationals can fire, they can shoot the MetroStars back towards the summit of the standings.

The North Eastern MetroStars in Action against Adelaide City in NPL SA Season 2021 (Image: Adam Butler/@8zerokms)

Where will the rest of the pack land?

The four clubs sitting between the finals spots and the relegation zone walk a fine tightrope that can be solidified or snapped with a couple of results. That example was once again evident in season 2021.

Adelaide Olympic finished a spot outside the finals, three points away from the coveted sixth spot but only seven points from the relegated Raiders. Meanwhile Cumberland City finished just outside the relegation zone, three points away from the relegated Raiders and seven points away from finals.

Adelaide Olympic’s 2021 pre-season was overcome by tragedy, with newly appointed coach Pavlos Vangelis passing away after a short battle with illness. Resilient as ever, Olympic put on sometimes strong but mostly inconsistent showings in season 2021, the highlight of which was lifting the Federation Cup.

Olympic will be hoping Kristin and Jason Konstandopoulos continue developing as players and leaders of the club and veteran marksman Fausto Erba keeps scoring as they aim to bounce back into a finals spot.

Travis Dodd’s Croydon Kings were in relegation struggles with a month to go in last campaign but showed how things can quickly change in this part of the table. The Kings won three of their last four game to not only survive, but to finish just three points outside of a finals spot.

The Kings, led by star and captain Lukasz Klimek, will be hoping to continue the rich vein of form they discovered late in 2021, avoid relegation conversations and contend for a finals spot as they move to their brand new facility in Regency Park.

Adelaide United will face the ever-present issues of a youth team playing in a competition full of grown men. A talented young side will pick up points but it must ensure it can first find consistency to avoid getting near the relegation zone. United’s best is dazzling, and led by talented youngsters such as Jonny Yull, Ethan Alagich and Nestory Irankunda and new signing Asad Kasumovic, it is good enough to achieve a finals spot if it is presented consistently.

Along with United, Cumberland United was only three points away from relegation in last season.

Losing star man Tom Briscoe will not help their cause, and it means more pressure will be on star players like Sam Carmichael and Rocky Visconte. The Foxes tend to start their seasons fast and then fade, so discovering consistency across the full season should be their goal.

Adelaide Olympic with the 2021 Federation Cup. They would be hoping to escape the “pack” and return to finals football in 2022 (Image: Adam Butler/@8zerokms)

Can the newcomers make their presence felt?

With Adelaide Croatia Raiders and Adelaide Blue Eagles getting relegated from the NPL SA, the door was swung open for two historic and ambitious clubs to earn promotion in FK Beograd and West Torrens Birkalla. The two clubs split the championship and the premiership in State League One in 2021, with Beograd coming out on top in the Grand Final.

FK Beograd got relegated from the South Australian top flight in 2015; and after years of good but not outstanding performances, Damian Mori got his side promoted back to where they belong.

The club has shown ambition, with Mori luring his son Josh away from MetroStars along with the signings of Isaac Mullen, Matt Jones and Paul Radice, Along with Adelaide Comets star and former Beograd junior Ninko Beric and former Adelaide United Youth team captain Cooper Nunn returning home from the United States College system, Beograd has plenty of talent at its disposal.

After years in the wilderness, Beograd are back in the big time and are making it clear they do not only intend to stay here, but thrive and succeed.

Birkalla got relegated from the top flight in 2018 and after a few years of investing the money, they are back in the NPL SA.

Birkalla are showing faith in the side that earned them the promotion, retaining the majority of the squad along with the smart additions of Nathan Munro, Austin Ayoubi, Stefan Simic and George Mannion. Coach Jason Trimboli would be hoping his squad can match up against the quality currently present in the NPL SA competition and remain in the competition.

FK Beograd celebrating their State League 1 Championship win against West Torrens Birkalla and subsequent promotion (Image: Adam Butler/@8zerokms)

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