The first ball has been kicked in anger by the 11th side set to enter the A-League in 2019-20; Western United downing Victorian State League One side Caroline Springs George Cross 4-0 in front of a reported crowd of over 3,000 people on Thursday night.
United, who were one of two expansion bidders tapped by the FFA to enter Australia’s top-flight alongside Macarthur FC, has promised to construct a brand new, boutique football stadium in Melbourne’s West as part of their pitch to Australian football’s governing body; touting their ability to expand the competition’s footprint to one of the fastest-growing corridors in Australia.
Such a stadium would mark the first occasion that an A-League side has been the owner/operator of the stadium in which it plays out of; something previously able to be claimed by NSL sides such as Melbourne Knights.
Assembling a side featuring the likes of former Socceroos striker Scott McDonald, 2018-19 A-League Goalkeeper of the Year Filip Kurto, Greek international Panagiotis Kone and 17-time Italian representative Alessandro Diamanti under Head Coach Mark Rudan, United appear capable of putting together a product on the park that is capable of challenging for finals football in its first season in the A-League.
However – beyond the promises of new markets to exploit, new stars to sign and new rivalries to foster – a key benefit of the expansion of the A-League is in the opportunity it presents to expand the ranks of Australian players plying their trade as professional footballers in their native land.
There have been few attempts to obfuscate the problems that Australia is facing when it comes to fostering the development of the next generation of its Socceroos and Matildas: the chances that talented kids get to experience high quality, first-team football in professional environments stark.
Though it in and of itself is not a complete cure-all for the woes of Australian youth development – reforms to the structure of youth pathways, transfer fees/the salary cap and the implementation of a national second division other important steps along that path – the addition of United to the A-League has given a number of young players the chance to head West in pursuit of more regular game time.
Australian youth internationals Apostolos Stamatelopoulos, Seb Pasquali, Jonathan Aspropotamitis, James Delianov, Dylan Pierias and Josh Cavallo have all signed on to pull on the Green and Black shirt of United in 2018-19.
With Rudan overseeing a Wellington Phoenix side in 2018-19 that blooded a number of exciting young players, including now Bayern Munich player Sarpreet Singh, hope will be high amongst neutral observers of youth football that the 43-year-old Head Coach can do the same in Tarneit.
All of those aforementioned young players played in the second half against George Cross on Thursday night, and Cavallo – who was particularly impressive across his 45 minutes – said that it was good to get that first game out of the way with a win.
“I’m very pleased,” the 19-year-old said following Thursday evening’s game.
“More importantly, I’m happy that we got the win and are gelling as a team.
“There was a lot of principles that the boss mentioned that he wanted us to practice tonight and I think that we executed that very well. So, I’m very pleased with the performance.
“Of course, there’s so much we could improve on but I think it’s a great start.
“(Rudan) has given me confidence from day one just to be yourself as a player. He’s had trust in me, which is great, and it’s given me confidence along the way.
“Scott McDonald has taken me under his wing from day one, telling me in training that there’s something improve on, I’ve gone to stepping up to different levels at training.
“There’s a lot of mentors here for me. Diamanti as well, playing in the same position, we do similar scenarios. It’s perfect. It’s something that I’m just thriving with and I’m loving being at this football club.”
For Pierias, Thursday evening’s contest – which he capped with a goal in the 54th minute – was even more special considering his roots in the West.
“Moving here, especially being from the west, being a local, it means a lot to me,” Pierias said.
“Just being here, I’m going to take every opportunity I get. Even the 45 minutes tonight, just take it all and take it all in and just enjoy it. That’s what you have to do, so I’m really happy.
“It was an amazing night, to be honest. Walking out and being on the bench and having a look out at the crowd. It’s every boy’s dream, looking at that.
“Thanks to all the supporters that came out. Being a new club, it’s going to be tough, but I hope all the supporters enjoyed what we put out there.”