Thursday, February 22, 2007

The B-Team

IF the job of finding a first 12 out of the version 2 regular season was hard enough, then choosing the best of the rest was no simpler task, with the likes of Simon Colosimo, Dario Vidosic, Massimo Murdocca, Stan Lazaridis, Damien Mori, Steve Eagleton, Sasa Ognenovski, Adrian Caceres, Simon Storey, Alen Marcina, Leo Bertos, Bobby Petta, Ufuk Talay, Jamie Harnwell, Stewart Petrie, Jade North, Robbie Middleby, Alvin Ceccoli and Ruben Zadkovich all, in my opinion, unlucky to miss out. Unfortunately the hardest player to leave out of this second 11 was Nathan Burns, who was sparkling before going on international duty, but it is impossible to have everyone in, so here is TRBA Reserve Team of the Year, in an attack-minded 3-4-1-2 (3-5-2) shape;

Danny Vukovic, CCM, keeper; with the speed taken out of Mariners defence by the departures of Michael Beauchamp and Dean Heffernan, Vukovic was far more busy this season than he was last, making the most number of the saves in the competition by a long way (91 to Bajic's 64). Week after week, especially in the earlier part of the season when the pressure was on becuase of an inability to score at the other end, Vukovic kept them in games. The fact the Mariners were still in the hunt with only a couple of weeks to go was as much down to Vukovic as it was Mori.

Mark Rudan, SFC, right stopper; as I touched upon in describing Milligan's season, Sydney's best period came in a nine game undefeated run midway through the campaign when Rudan and Milligan were in tandem. While his distribution often left alot to be desired (indeed, he was often the chief architect of Terry Butcher's direct style), his defensive work was best described as uncompromising, just as his manager would have loved it. Found out in the minor semi when he didn't have the cover of Milligan alongside him, but five clean sheets on the trot gets him in ahead of Ognenovski, who had an excellent start but then lost confidence, and North, who made a decent fist of his move into central defence.

Angelo Costanzo, AU, central defender; the pity for Costanzo is that he often appeared to be at war with John Kosmina, for whenever he did come into the side he looked good, especially at the back. Robert Cornthwaite started the season alongside Valkanis, while Rees had an extended run when Costanzo was in midfield. But Adelaide's season got back on track in the final month of the regular season, when Costanzo was back in unison with Valkanis. His work in the finals was exemplary, but more on that later.

Adrian Leijer, MV, left stopper; like the above two defenders, developing a mean reputation for his physical work and crunching tackles. After an impressive inaugural A-League, where, like Costanzo and Vukovic, he was also in my reserve team of the year, formed a formidable partnership with Storey to his right and Vargas to his left, complementing Vargas's ball-work with a willigness to mark tight. While he played on the right of a two man central defence for the Victory, he is adaptable enough to play on the left of a back three here.

Joel Griffiths, NJ, right midfield; while he often played on the right side of a 4-2-3-1, his workrate and willingness to track back means he could comfortably fit on the right side of a 3-4-1-2. While he forged a reputation among the referees for his niggle and persistent fouls (topped the fouls conceded and yellow-red card lists), his all-action style also made him among the most fouled players in the league, second only to Bertos. Caused most defenders problems, the only thing missing being consistency in front of goal, but finished the season well in that regard. Vidosic also caught the eye with his early impact and wonderful finish to the season, while Bertos went off the boil after being among the best in the competition in the opening third of the season.

Stuart Musalik, NJ, defensive central midfielder; when I look back to the start of the season and my preview of Newcastle's chances, I remember thinking how much pressure there was on this kid to step up after the off-season departure of one of their best from season one, Richard Johnson. Indeed, I felt Musalik was on a hiding to nothing, given that the season started with no cover in the key holding midfield area. In the pre-season I'd witnessed a tentative display where he appeared almost afraid to demand the ball from Okon, such a key ingredient for any wannabe holder. Indeed, he started the year slowly, even being relegated to the bench in round three as Nick Theodorakopoulos tried to find a solution for his skipper's error-riddled start at the back. Enter Gary van Egmond and things started to turn for Musalik. Given the confidence, he started expressing himself, getting the ball off his defenders, spraying it to Nick Carle, wide to Griffiths, Eagleton, Bridge, Thompson and Rodriguez. A wonderful reader of the game, what speed he might lack he makes up for with a quickness of mind. Sensing the players around him, he turns into space, as natural a footballer as you are likely to find (Vidosic also comes into that equation, just as a young Jason Culina did). At one stage Musalik even made a hat-trick of appearances in TRBA team of the week (rounds 14, 15 and 16). As I noted a few times this season, watching him string a whopping 996 completed passes was one of the joys of season 2, and fans of quality football and our national team will watch his development closely over the next couple of years. Showed plenty of courage to see out the season with a crook shoulder and unlucky not to feature in the top team. A certain Muscat saw to that.

Grant Brebner, MV, central midfield; a pedigree Victory signing, much pressure was on Brebner and Muscat in an area of the park (central midfield) Melbourne has failed in last season. Immediately they formed an in-synch understanding, Muscat's sitting and distribution complementing the box-to-box drive and workrate of Brebner. Effective at tagging, he was also a useful part of Melbourne's attack, popping up for one vital goal against Perth and its hitherto unbeatable keeper Tomich.

Matt McKay, QR, left midfield; while his best work was often in central midfield, his adaptability and left peg pushes him wide here, providing this unit with balance. While he had a little spell in the middle of the season where he appeared to be missing his little mate Murdocca, his start and finish were top-notch, and his buzzability when working in tandem with Murdocca was easy on the eye and hard to contain. If he can add a little more composure and subtely around the 18 yard box, a gift Vidosic has, he will be an even better player.

Steve Corica, SFC, attacking central midfielder; have already discussed his splendid season in my description of Nick Carle, but I just have to put my hand up and admit surprise at the impact he has had since returning from Europe. Often this season he was Sydney's shining light, staying true to his technical strengths while his teammates struggled for confidence on the ball.

Mark Bridge, NJ, striker; shedding eight kilos in the off-season, a good friend of Bridge's hinted that I should keep my eyes out for him during the season. Not rated by Richard Money, he was bit part in season one. But encouraged by Theodorakopoulos, he got himself fit and soon showed his wonderful ability on the ball, driving, dribbling and always looking to link up with the likes of Carle, Griffiths and Rodriguez. If he wasn't scoring (equal third behind Allsopp and Thompson with eight), he was providing (five assists), proving he is close to the complete package up front. Wonderfully adaptable, he looked comfortable in all four forward positions, wide left or right, up top or in behind. Like Musalik and Vukovic, he has already had a feel for being around the Socceroos and won't be at home much longer if he keeps up this form. Sensational.

Milton Rodriguez, NJ, striker; hard to leave Burns out after his wonderful work early in the season, where he was largely responsible for making United play, but Rodriguez was even harder to leave out and gets in for his sharp instincts around the box. Bagging seven, he scored some crucial ones, most memorably on debut, endearing himself to the Newcastle faithful and neutrals alike. Will be a sad day for Newcastle and the A-League if it can't retain a player of this quality.

Gary van Egmond, NJ, manager; it's all here. Beyond that, the thing I was most impressed about was that almost every time van Egmond spoke it was about technical things, like how he would control his opponent, how he would break them down and why he had made a substitution. It was invariably thoughtful and insightful and most times he got it right. Shrewd football brain, there is little he doesn't see.


Anonymous george said...

The balance of this team impresses me more than your 1st XI. Somw good picks.

Fri. Feb. 23, 11:36:00 am AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

george, glad it has your approval:-)

for the players that missed out on the 2nd 11, here's a third;

keeper; Bolton
back 4 (r to l); Eagleton, North, Ognenovski, Storey
Midfield (r to l); Bertos, Murdocca, Colosimo, Petta
Strikers; Burns, Mori.
Manager; Ricki Herbert

Sat. Feb. 24, 10:46:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Pinuts Pethia said...

How about Buari and Salley?

Tue. Feb. 27, 08:26:00 am AEDT  

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