Thursday, January 24, 2008

A-League team of the season, v3

CHOOSING version 3’s team of the regular season, I’ve got to say, wasn’t as easy as the past two seasons. While Pim Verbeek’s comments yesterday that it’s better to be training in Germany than playing in this league were a little unflattering and far from diplomatic, the truth is, and it’s been widely circulated, that the on-field standards haven’t been as strong as expected this season. Things have improved a touch over the past month with the return to form of the defending champions, the organisation of the Newcastle Jets and the odd decent showing from Sydney, the Mariners and the Roar, but in the main v3 will be remembered more for its closeness on the field and some amazing breakthroughs off it, but more on that in another blog. Right now it’s time to assess those players that have caught the eye, and while the likes of Diego, Nathan Burns and Bruce Djite started the season brilliantly, injuries soon put paid to theirs and Adelaide’s title aspirations. Elsewhere, the likes of Adam Kwasnik, Nigel Boogaard, Mark Milligan, Michael Zullo, Robbie Kruse, Daniel, Felipe and Tom Pondeljak all had good periods, but how many of the competition’s players where consistently producing the goods? This team, in the main, rewards consistency, with the odd little twist;

J. Griffiths----------------Brosque

Keeper, Ante Covic, NJ; had a poor start to his A-League career when he returned home in the middle of v2, but this season he has been in brilliant form, rediscovered some of the coverage that had him first noticed at Marconi. Newcastle have kept more clean sheets than most, and Covic’s shot-stopping and cross-handling has been a key. It’s enough to get him the gig in this side ahead of some fine glove-men in Danny Vukovic and Michael Theoklitos. Others to shine included Liam Reddy, Glenn Moss and Clint Bolton.

Right-back, Hyuk-Su Seo, QR; James Downey, blessed with blistering pace, was a revelation at Perth and is one to watch, Tarek Elrich was arguably the most improved player in the league while a bloke at the other end of his career, Richie Alagich, had a very good final season at Adelaide, but for sheer consistency, hard to go past the South Korean up in Queensland. For the past couple of seasons he has been chopped and changed between midfield and right back, but this season he made the position his own, keeping out Ben Griffin in the process. Not the most dynamic coming forward, but if you’re looking for someone to do the defensive job and do it well, Hyuk-Su is your man.

Central defender, Jade North, NJ; we saw signs of his maturity last season, but this year, entrusted with the captaincy and the responsibility for bossing the defence after the retirement of Paul Okon, North took his game to another level. Quick on the ground, courageous in the challenge and reading the game better than ever, he combined well with both Andrew Durante and Covic and was as responsible as anyone for ensuring the Jets had the equal best defensive record.

Central defender, Rody Vargas, MV; probably the hardest choice of the lot was choosing North’s partner in the centre of defence. There were a number of decent candidates, including Sydney’s Mark Milligan and Mark Rudan, Queensland’s Craig Moore and Sash Ognenovski, Newcastle’s Durante, Perth’s Dino Djulbic and Jamie Coyne and Central Coast’s Nigel Boogaard, but in a team which struggled for much of the season, Vargas again stood out for the Victory and makes TRBA’s team of the year for the second season on the spin.

Left back, Cassio, AU; Dean Heffernan was fairly consistent for the Mariners and Tony Lochhead ok for the Phoenix but I really enjoyed Cassio’s contributions for Adelaide. While he didn’t produce one of his apparent ‘Roberto Carlos style’ efforts on goal, he was a constant source of good work down the left, looking comfortable when he brought the ball forward, and equally at home when he was called on to defend. One of the few successful Brazilian imports.

Holding central midfielder, Mile Jedinak, CCM; emboldened by a full time contract in the off-season and handed the responsibility of bossing the Mariners midfield, Jedinak relished it, proving he is as physical as any player in this physical league. Whether it was rising for a trademark header, tagging an opposition’s playmaker, reacting first to some scraps in the centre of midfield or making a bone-jarring tackle, Jedinak kept putting his hand up. As influential as any Mariner for the minor premiership, he formed a formidable partnership with the likes of John Hutchinson and Tom Pondeljak. Other notable performers included Queensland’s Danny Tiatto and Stuart McLaren, Sydney’s Ufuk Talay and Perth’s Simon Colosimo.

Right-sided central midfielder, James Holland, NJ; while he only played a third of the season in total, what an amazing seven game contribution it was, better than most players’ full season. Blessed with wonderful poise on the ball and a natural ability to be in the right place at the right time, he played in a crucial role in picking up the Jets at the back end of the season, a point I delved into in this piece. He gets into the side ahead of John Hutchinson because of his more subtle approach and the need to provide a bit of creative midfield balance to the hard working Jedinak and Matt McKay. In a season a graft an industry, nice to see a natural footballer. Another player who was ultra-impressive in the early going but soon faded due to injury was Adelaide’s Diego, while Billy Celeski and Tom Pondeljak were great to watch, on and off the ball.

Left sided central midfielder, Matt McKay, QR; Mr. Consistent, Frank Farina could always rely on McKay’s all-action efforts in the heart of his midfield. While the equally mobile and dynamic Massimo Murdocca didn’t settle into the 11 till the second half of the season and Farina chopped and changed in the holding role, McKay was ever-present on the left side of a midfield trio, a bundle of energy and gets in hear ahead Lucas Pantelis, who was excellent for Adelaide.

Right sided attacker, Joel Griffiths, NJ; undisputedly the A-League player of the season, he started the season as the man every opposition fan loved to hate and the man who attracted more attention from the referees than anyone else. During it he was in involved in the now infamous groin-gate, a turning point for his campaign, and by the end of it he was the man even the most ardent Mariners fans had to admit was the stand-out player of the campaign, universally admired and respected. Whether he was dropping off the front-line to pick up the ball in midfield, running at defenders, lurking off the shoulder of defenders, over the dead ball or rounding a keeper, Griffiths was simply untouchable, so much so he set an A-League record of 12 goals. Golden Boot and Golden Ball, it truly was a golden season.

Striker, Archie Thompson, MV; with Griffiths and Alex Brosque stand-outs for two of the front three spots, the choice of who got the central striker spot was more difficult. Nik Mrdja looked a shoe-in early, soon followed by the powerful and fast-improving Bruce Djite, but injury befell both. In Wellington, Shane Smeltz was a consistent threat, with neat feet and nous around the field, while the much-maligned Reinaldo silenced many a critic. John Aloisi came on board midway through the Mariners campaign and proved he is a class act, especially inside the box, while Jamie Harnwell, sadly for Perth, was their main threat. But for sheer entertainment and brilliance on the ball, it was hard to go past Thompson once again. While the goals dried up, his magical feet and pace still proved too much for most defenders, and he was responsible for five assists, equal top in the league.

Left sided attacker, Alex Brosque, SFC; Sydney had a poor start to the season and one of the guilty under-achievers in the first few weeks was this man. But soon something clicked. It was his partnership with Juninho. Before you knew it Brosque was feeding off the Brazilian’s forward promptings, finishing with more ruthlessness than we have seen in the past two seasons and proving too mobile and slippery for most defenders. One of the other intriguing advancements in his game was his ability to handle the physicality of the league, not something you always associate with Brosque. After promising to emerge for what seems an eternity, this season should finally be his making, the one when the kid with promise became a man. Elsewhere on the flanks, there were impressive seasons from the Roar kids in Michael Zullo, Robbie Kruse and Tahj Minniecon, while Nikita Rukavytsya showed promise and Daniel caught the eye with his wonderful left peg.

Manager, Gary van Egmond, NJ; as I noted at the bottom of this piece, given the hurdles placed in front of him, van Egmond would be a fitting choice for manager of the season, getting his men to the finals for the second straight year, in his second year. Frank Farina also did a very good job in Queensland while John Kosmina has instilled some belief in his men.

Reserves team of the year (4-3-3); Danny Vukovic; Richie Alagich, Nigel Boogaard, Mark Milligan, Dean Heffernan; Massimo Murdocca, John Hutchinson, Lucas Pantelis; Bruce Djite, John Aloisi, Shane Smeltz.

There it is, TRBA’s team of the v3 regular season. So who would you have included or left out? And while on the subject of the players that have stood out in v3, why not vote in the Fans’ Choice A-League Awards, hosted by Eric over at the MVFC Blog. There’s four categories including best player of the season, best foreigner, best under 23 and most missed player from v2, which must surely be between either Fred or Nick Carle.


Anonymous sir alex said...

Holland is a big call Tony. Not sure about that one. The rest of the team seems fine.

Fri. Jan. 25, 11:14:00 am AEDT  
Blogger pippinu said...

El Zorro couldn't even make the best 22 players for the season? That's a little hard to accept. To get a call up to the Ticos, after having fallen out of favour, and solely from his efforts in the A-League, is about as good a recommendation as you are ever going to find.

Sat. Jan. 26, 10:39:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Pippinu, thanks again for your comment....i've been really impressed with hernandez in the past month or so, but i've gotta say the rest of his season was a bit of a let down. It clearly took him time to settle in and Merricks conservative tactics did nothing to help him. He had the odd moment, like the day he, archie and allsopp destroyed the mariners at bluetongue, but until Melbourne's late season run I thought he was quite avg..

Great to hear he's back in the Costa Rican fold and it would be great to see him continue his recent run in the acl...

Reckon he looks a bit fitter these days, and the addition of Nick Ward alongside him as another attacking midfield option has taken some of the attention and pressure off...

Sat. Jan. 26, 11:03:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Noticed Robbie Slater is now saying the same things about Holland that you've been writing.,8659,23115424-5000940,00.html

Sun. Jan. 27, 09:45:00 am AEDT  

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