Bolder. Fiercer. Harder. Better. Faster. Higher. Stronger. Every superlative can sum up Australasia’s premier association football club competition, the world-famous Hyundai A-League, founded in 2004. With all sides fielding youth teams at the lower divisions (Wellington Phoenix’s youth play in the ASB Premiership of New Zealand) and with most teams fielding women’s sides, the A-League is hoping to rebound from a season that saw supporters take bad stick only to rebound with a sense of purpose, a sense of resolve.
In this piece, we currently have the defending double winners, Guillermo Amor’s Adelaide United, as the No. 1 team in our Preseason Power Rankings. One major talking point has been the highly-publicized return of Tim Cahill to Australia, where he now plays for John van’t Schip’s Melbourne City Football Club. The moment is here. This is The Stoppage Time’s preview of the 2016-17 Hyundai A-League season, also known as Season 12.
1. Adelaide United
The premiers and champions of Australia, Guillermo Amor’s Adelaide United overcame a very rough start to storm to the top of the regular season standings with a 14-7-6 record (49 points) before receiving the A-League Championship Ring (or toilet seat, if you win) from Melbourne Victory. Adelaide’s hopes to defend its trophies took a hit in the offseason with a number of key players leaving. However, their main men return, including goalkeeper and captain Eugene Galekovic, midfielder Isaias, forward Sergio Cirio, defender Tarek Elrich and midfielder Marcelo Carrusca. Notable additions to the club include former Melbourne Victory midfielder Jesse Makarounas and former Brisbane Roar striker Henrique.
2. Western Sydney Wanderers
There’s a reason why Tony Popovic remains manager of the Western Sydney Wanderers Football Club. Two reasons, actually. The Wanderers remain the only club to earn the honor of Champions of Asia. Also, after a slow start, the Wanderers picked up the pieces and finished second on the ladder with a record of 14-6-7 (48 points) to return to the AFC Champions League for the 2017 calendar year.
Just about all of the main guns for the Wanderers—whose iconic Red and Black Bloc, the RBB, have been publicized and glamorized for their progressive and aggressive fan behavior—are back. They include captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley, midfielder Dimas Delgado, midfielder Kearyn Baccus, goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne, defender Scott Neville, midfielder Mitch Nichols, defender Robert Cornthwaite and forward Brendon Santalab. Notable newcomers include youngster Kerem Bulut, defender Jonathan Aspropotamitis (or Aspro for shot), Spanish defender Aritz Borda, Uruguayan midfielder Bruno Piñatares and Japanese midfielder Jumpei Kusukami.
3. Brisbane Roar
Uncertainty regarding the ownership of John Aloisi’s Brisbane Roar cannot go unnoticed. Despite a 14-6-7 record (48 points), dwindling membership numbers and late payments to players have been a massive distraction for the club. The Roar will need to clean up its act in the front office. In the meantime, Brisbane received a shot in the arm with the arrival of Brett Holman on a free transfer. Holman joins a club that includes captain Matt McKay, vice-capitain Jade North, goalkeeper Michael Theo, midfielder Thomas Broice, defender Jack Hinger, forward Dimi Petratos, forward Brandon Borrello, and their main ace in production, Jamie Maclaren. Forward Joey Katebian joins Brisbane after getting the squeeze at the Victory.
4. Melbourne City
Last season, Melbourne City Football Club finished 13-5-9 (44 points). But City aren’t just about Tim Cahill, Australia’s great Socceroo in the modern age. For starters, there’s Bruno Fornaroli, the captain whose goalscoring production has made him a fan favorite, a hero among the faithful singing “Wonderwall” at AAMI Park. Then you have goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, a Danish product that is set for another big year. Otherwise, it’s a new-look club, with new faces in former Adelaide United legend Bruce Kamau, Argentine striker Fernando Brandan, Danish defender Michael Jakobsen and longtime A-League defender Manny Muscat. Manchester City loaneers Anthony Caceres and Luke Brattan are set to keep City’s title hopes alive.
5. Melbourne Victory
A calendar treble and an FFA Cup victory was all that Kevin Muscat’s Melbourne Victory Football Club could secure. Otherwise, the Big V’s form regressed badly as they posted a record of 11-8-8 (41 points). As of this writing, the Victory are one of a few A-League sides remaining in the 2016 FFA Cup tournament proper, including Melbourne City, Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Carl Valeri returns as captain and will need to be fit and without any head issues. Most of the aces are back, including forward Besart Berisha, forward Fahid Ben Khalfallah, goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas, forward Mitch Austin, midfielder Oliver Bozanic and defenders Daniel Georgievski and Nick Ansell. The additions of forward James Troisi and Marco Rojas will ensure that the Victory intentions of returning to scoring and winning form are made loud and clear.
6. Perth Glory
A decent campaign last season saw Kenny Lowe’s Perth Glory finish 13-4-10 (43 points), good fof fifth. The form of midfielder Diego Castro is a reason why the Glory took part in the final series. Richard Garcia, a longtime servant to the league, returns as Glory captain. Other notable players include forwward Andy Keogh, defender Shane Lawry, goalkeeper Liam Reddy, forward Jamal Reiners and their ace on defense, defender Josh Risdon.
7. Sydney FC
Despite earning valuable experience in the AFC Champions League, Graham Arnold’s Sydney FC were on the outside looking in with a record of 8-10-9 (34 points). Alex Brosque returns as captain of the Sky Blues, with Sebastian Ryall named Vice Captain. Notable new faces include Brazilian forward Bobo (yes, that’s his actual name, not to be confused with Boo Boo Bear, Yogi send help), forward Filip Holosko, defender Alex Wilkinson, striker George Blackwood, midfielder Rhyan Grant, midfielder Milos Ninkovic, defender Matt Jurman, midfielder David Carney and goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic. Forward Bernie Ibini-Isei arrives to the team on loan from Club Brugge.
8. Newcastle Jets
Scott Miller was given a stay of execution despite the Newcastle United Jets finishing last year with a record of 8-6-13 (30 points). The late addition of Morten Nordstrand restored Newcastle’s scoring form, and the Danish dynamo will be needed to produce, Nigel Boogaard returns as captain of the Jets, with Mateo Poljak as vice captain. Notable players include Finnish forward Aleksandr Kokko, midfielder Wayen Brown, forward Labinot Haliti, defender Daniel Mullen, midfielder Ben Kantarovski, forward Andrew Nabbout and midfielder Devante Clut.
9. Wellington Phoenix
Former Melbourne Victory bookends Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler will look to lift Ernie Merrick’s Wellington Phoenix, who finished last season with a record of 7-4-16 (25 points). Andrew Durante returns as captain of the Nix, whose other notable players include midfielder Roly Bonevacia, defender Louis Fenton, midfielder Michael McGlinchy, Fijian forward Roy Krishna, midfielder Vince Lia and the ageless netminder himself, Glen Moss.
10. Central Coast Mariners
A massive change to the management at the Central Coast Mariners took place on Aug. 8, when Tony Walmsley was the first manager to be sacked. Following an interim spell in which John Hutchinson was caretaker, Paul Okon is now the man in charge in Gosford. Last season, Central Coast, and its iconic Masterfoods inflatable sauce bottles and pep band, finished at the foot of the table with a record of 3-4-20 (13 points). Nick Montgomery returns as captain of the Mariners. Notable players include defenders Harry Ascroft and Storm Roux, forwards Fabio Ferreira and Roy O’Donovan, and goalkeeper Tom Heward-Belle. New enlistees include former Sydney FC defender Jacques Faty and former Melbourne Victory midfielder Connor Pain.