Thursday, June 18, 2009

Will it be Sydney FC's year?

From a special correspondent in Sydney

It’s a Tuesday night in the middle of winter in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and one asks oneself: “What does one do on a mid-week evening in the middle of winter in Sydney?”

Well, the TV guide gives a great clue. Free-to-air is just that – crap comes for free, and the programs listed do not excite the entertainment needs of a middle-aged bachelor residing in Dee Why. What about FOXTEL I hear you asking? The apartment block doesn’t receive its signal, so the TV is not an option tonight.

What about going to the football to see a pre-season game for Sydney FC and warming up the vocal chords for the real thing commencing in a couple of months? The game is being played a few kilometres away at Cromer Park, against the local State League outfit, Manly United. Great idea! In fact, don’t even drive. Use the three kilometres as walking exercise – after all, this bachelor is an entrant in this year’s Global Corporate Challenge, where participants aim to walk 10,000 steps per day over a four-month period. What a great way to add to today’s step count.

Grabbing an umbrella, the walk commences to Cromer Park. Shortly after, the heavens open up and the downpour challenges the tropical storms of the summer – the only difference is that the rain is quite cold rather than lukewarm. One starts to think: “How stupid am I? Where am I going in these conditions? Surely I’m wasting 45 minutes walking to the ground, only to find that the game is called off”.

But, the determination and commitment to Sydney FC as a fan, and the willpower, are too strong and I arrive at Cromer Park shortly before 7pm. I am shocked on two fronts. First, there are another 1,600 idiots there wanting to see the game, and second, the damn game is actually proceeding.

The ground resembles something close to a swimming pool and the weather resembles something best described by the newly created noun, coined from the current national coach, “Ver Bleak”. How the hell does one expect to see a game being played in these conditions? Surely an abandonment is in the best interests of all involved, including the fans! To top it off, it’s extremely cold for a winter’s night in Sydney.

Amazingly, right on 7pm, the players emerge from the dressing rooms, along with the officials – and yes, they’re dressed in their clubs’ playing strips and the game is to go ahead. At the same time, the heavens open up for a second time. Only this time, the rain can only be described as torrential x 2. Now who are the real idiots? At least the bachelor has found comfort under the cover of the grand stand – despite being drenched in the lower legs and feet from his adventurous walk to the ground.

Sydney FC began the game fielding a near full-strength team – all faces recognisable from last season, with the exception of the left back, who was a Korean on trial with Sydney and named Sung Hwan Byun, and the Slovakian international, Karol Kisel.

Both excelled in their performance in the first half, with Byun scoring the opening goal from a free-kick on the half-hour mark, and Kisel dominating the mid-field with veteran Steve Corica.

The other unrecognisable feat of the first half was the way that Sydney FC knocked the ball around the park. Many one- and two-touch passes along the ground – which was challenging in its own right with all the surface water around – and player movements off the ball which were simply non-existent under previous coach, John Kosmina.

It was plainly obvious to see the impact new coach Vitezslav Lavicka (Damn! How is one supposed to remember that and get it right each week?) has had already on the team. Where am I? Initially, when walking into the ground, one could’ve been fooled into going back in time and being time-warped in the 80s watching a local suburban mid-week game in the winters of Hobart. The resemblances were many. But, the standard of play being now exhibited was vastly different. One had to pinch oneself and ask: “Is this the same core bunch of blokes who performed so disappointingly last season? Surely, they can’t have been transformed this easily?”

Transformed they were, though, and the exhibition being put on by Sydney FC was most encouraging in the first half. The challenge was now whether it could be sustained for the full 90 minutes.

The second half commenced in slightly better conditions, with the rain having downgraded itself to a drizzle and eight changes being made to the Sydney FC starting line-up. The youth team was now predominantly on the park and most of these kids had already played a handful of A-League games at the end last season, when all hopes of making the finals were lost. Even Mitchell Prentice came out from under his injury rock and played exceptionally well, even if he was unrecognisable with his new blonde streaks.

And, impress they did. Within 10 minutes, Sydney FC went 2-0 up courtesy of Chris Payne, after some great work on the right-hand side of the field by Ryan Grant. Within minutes, Brendan Gan made it 3-0, and shortly after, Shannon Cole displayed his trademark dead-ball skills by hammering home a free-kick from 25 metres to make the final score line 4-0 to Sydney FC.

Another game without a goal being conceded – that’s six in a row – and the juggernaut continues on. Hopefully, the team hasn’t peaked too early, even though they seem to be a major class above all the NSW State League opposition that they are currently playing against.

More encouraging for Sydney FC was the fact that they played, and dominated, the last 20 minutes of the game with only ten men after Kofi Danning was injured and couldn’t return to the field and no substitutes were left to replace him.

For Sydney FC supporters, the game demonstrated many positives and that the club was heading in the right direction under Lavicka. But some real concerns still remain from last season. Namely, keeper Clint Bolton still has no confidence in the air and marquee player John Aloisi is still too slow up front. No doubt Lavicka will need to address these issues over the coming month or so leading into the new A-League season.

Now, it’s off to the car to drive home. Damn! I just remembered that I walked to the game. I now faced the daunting task of trying to keep warm. I trundled off on the 45-minute walk back to the warm confines of an apartment, a warm shower to thaw out, and a hot cup of tea. Forget about the severe blisters caused by the walking. What a great way to spend a cold, wet, bleak, winter’s night in Sydney. Some of us are just so easy to please!

1 comment:

Marty Nidorfer said...

this is a top article, I think you should maybe try occasionally to use this type of persona, ie the fan. It makes for a a story rather than description.