NowUC’s A-League 2018-2019 Season Review
The 2018/19 season of the A-League has come to an end, but thankfully we still have a few more weeks of football, in the form of the A-League Finals campaign. Unsurprisingly, it was another action-packed year. Let’s take a look at the stories, the scandals, and the signings that made this season great. Then, we’ll take a brief look at each team, and see how they fared this season.
Another season another busy transfer window. There were of course a few key marquee player signings, as well as the rotation of squad players around the league. The biggest name to join the A-League this season of course goes to Keisuke Honda, who joined Melbourne Victory after a World Cup campaign with Japan, and a glittering career in Europe including a stint with Italian giants AC Milan. Melbourne also secured the signature of another World Cup performer in Ola Toivonen
Sydney FC brought in two new marquees after losing Bobo and Mierjievski, in the form of Englishman Adam Le Fondre, and Ajax player Siem De Jong (on loan).
Perth Glory also made some good deals, with Australian Chris Ikonomidis key to their winning campaign. Adelaide United brought back a fan favourite in Craig Goodwin, who was key in their FFA Cup victory.
Richie De Laet (who played in the Leicester City Premier League winning team) would also have to be considered one of the better signings (albeit a loanee), and while defenders aren’t exactly the marquee players who draw crowds, he has been incredibly effective for Melbourne City. City also made another excellent loan in bringing Riley McGree back to Australia.
Click here for a full list of all the transfers from this season.
The one consistent theme in modern sport is the endless stream of scandals, and while the 2018/19 season of the A-League wasn’t quite as eventful as the NRL’s pre-season, there was still a few too many unpleasant headlines. Here are a few of the scandals that caught the eye of Now UC writers for the wrong reasons:
Melbourne Victory had entered into an agreement with Kaishi Entertainment, but then were forced to drop the sponsor and remove the logo from their shirts before their opening Asian Champions League match, after links with online gambling were discovered.
The next eye catcher was one that caught the whole of Australian soccer, after Matilda’s coach Alen Stajcic was abruptly sacked by the FFA due to an alleged ‘toxic environment’ during his tenure. Stajcic found some kind of resolution, after being appointed as the new coach of the Central Coast Mariners – and has since been given a deal lasting till the end of the 2020-21 season (after being in charge 6 games, Mariners won 2 of their 3 for the season).
Another forgettable moment came with the banning on Adelaide Ken Ilso Larsen, for testing positive to a drug test, after 19 appearances and 3 goals for the Reds.
The SCG pitch also proved headline worthy. With a few rounds to play, there was still room for another heated scandal. During the Round 24 ‘Big Blue’, Melbourne Victory midfielder Terry Antonis suffered an injury due to the poor surface, sparking a heated debate about the worthiness of the ground for soccer games, and forcing the Sky Blues to have to find a new home.
While the signing of Keisuke Honda made headlines, the player story of the 2018/19 A-League season is the signing that wasn’t; Usain Bolt. While the worlds greatest sprinter came desperately close to signing with the Mariners, wage demands seemed the only thing that stopped him. Bolt managed to find the back of the net twice in a pre-season game for the Mariners, but after failing to secure a contract he soon retired from football, without having played a single professional game.
One story that dominated much of the news this season was about the addition of two new teams for the coming seasons. After a long drawn-out process that seemed would never come to pass, the FFA finally determined that two new teams from Sydney and Melbourne would be joining the A-League. Next season will see Western United (Melbourne) join the league, with Macarthur South West United (Sydney) joining in the 2020-2021 season.
A more behind the scenes story defined yet another season of the A-League; that age trumps youth. For the third season in a row, the club with the highest average age of the squad has won the Premiers Plate, and for the second season running, the team with the youngest average age has finished last.
The final story that seemed to define this year was the ongoing push to add a promotion/relegation system into the A-League. Many pundits have argued the necessity of this system, but sadly (for now) this idea seems to have been put on hold by FFA Chairman Chris Nikou’s suggestion that a system like that will be unachievable in the near future.
Think we missed any of the best stories, scandals or signings? Let us know in the comments below!
Perth managed to dominate the league, especially toward the end of the season. Despite a few losses that gave Sydney a chance of catching up, this always seemed unlikely, and Perth finished the regular season strongly with a 5-0 thrashing of Wellington.
Perth finished with not only the best attack in the league (56 Goals), but also the best defence (23 goals conceded). Considering their 8th place finish last season, few would have anticipated such a remarkable turnaround under Tony Popovic, yet here we are!
Highlight: Their first Premiers Plate of the A-League era.
Lowlight: Where is Jacob Italiano? The young star talked about so much last season has managed only 2 appearances this season (yes it’s not much of a lowlight, it’s hard to find many given the season they’ve had)
Sydney FC’s rein has seemingly come to an end, though the Sky Blues have no reason to hang their heads in shame. After having won 2 Premier’s Plates, 1 Grand Final, 1 FFA Cup (and runners up in another) in the last two seasons, it seemed about time they share some trophies. Given the loss of not only two players instrumental in their recent success (Bobo and Mierjewski), they also lost super coach Graham Arnold to the Socceroos. Sydney still have plenty to play for, with the prospect of having to face Melbourne Victory in the Semi-Finals looking very likely.
Highlight: Another successful season means many moments to choose from, but Alex Brosques sublime goal in his final Sydney Derby seems a fitting event to select.
Lowlight: The search for a new home after the turf at the SCG was so widely criticised
Melbourne Victory dominated all the headlines early in the season after gaining the signature of Keisuke Honda, they also managed to bring in another World Cup performer in the form of Ola Toivonen. After their Grand Final victory last season, and the aforementioned stars brought into the club, one may have expected slightly more of Melbourne during the regular season. However, Victory have done nothing to disappoint, and the title of Champions is still in their reach.
Highlight: Bringing in not 1 but 2 World Cup performers, in the forms of Keisuke Honda (3 appearances, 1 goal, 1 assist in the 2018 World Cup) and Ola Toivonen (5 appearances, 1 goal).
Lowlight: Star man Honda’s injury, which left him on the sideline for a few months.
Adelaide have been consistent performers over the last few years, and the 2018-2019 season was no different. With their victory in the FFA Cup Final against Sydney, it may have seemed like they would have gone further than 4th place. Adelaide made a few solid signings to boost their squad this year, most notably the return of Craig Goodwin – who scored both goals in their FFA Cup win.
Highlight: Their FFA Cup victory.
Lowlight: Ken Ilso Larson’s ban for doping.
Melbourne City have proven themselves to be consistent performers, having made the Top 6 every year since their purchase by Manchester City. Melbourne City have had a solid campaign, with a few incidents marring an otherwise successful season, namely the events surrounding the departure of once favourite son Bruno Fornaroli. City also have reason to be proud in the youth of their squad, possessing the 4th youngest average age of any team (with none of the 3 youngest making the Top 6) – so it seems their search for the next Daniel Arzani is on.
Highlight: Their final round 5-0 win over the Central Coast, not only for the quality performance but the late drama of an unlikely move to 5th place
Lowlight: The treatment and departure of former fan favourite Bruno Fornaroli
The Nix have surpassed all expectations this season by finishing in 6th place, giving them a spot in the finals. Wellington have impressed this season with their attacking football (scoring the 3rd most goals in the league with 46) and have completed somewhat of a revival under new coach Mark Rudan. Roy Krishna’s winning of the Golden Boot for the 2018-19 season also means that a Wellington player has won the award for the first time in 10 years (last being Shane Smeltz in 2008-09).
Highlight: Making the Finals for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
Lowlight: The looming departures of coach Mark Rudan and Golden Boot winner Roy Krishna
Newcastle Jets are arguably the biggest disappointment of the 2018-19 A-League season. Having gone all the way to the Grand-Final and lost it due to a extremely controversial goal (that would have been ruled offside had it not been for VAR somehow malfunctioning) – this years finals have seemed out of reach for the Jets for a very long time. One would have expected far more to a relatively unchanged squad from last season.
The Jets showed promise in the final rounds of the season, with a 6-1 thrashing of the Brisbane Roar, as well as a final round defeat of Sydney FC. Newcastle also made the Round of 16 in the FFA Cup (which they lost to Melbourne City) – which was their best ever run in the tournament.
Highlight: Making the Play-Offs of the AFC Champions League
Lowlight: While there was no single event, the lack of competitiveness to qualify for this years finals would be the worst part of the Jets season.
Western Sydney Wanderers
After winning the league in their first season and winning the 2014 AFC Champions League, the Wanderers have fallen back down to Earth. The Wanderers have few things to be proud of this year, with one of the few memorable moments being their first draw in a Sydney Derby since 2017, having lost the last 5. Western Sydney also made the Semi-Finals of the FFA Cup, but were send packing by their aforementioned Sydney rivals.
Things aren’t looking much better for the Wanderers future, with stars Oriel Riera, Roly Bonevicia and Alexander Baumjohann departing at the end of the season. The Wanderers boast the second highest members (over 16,000) in the league, and may risk losing a few of these if they aren’t able to improve next season.
Highlight: Bankwest Stadium is finally ready. After 3 years of lacking a permanent home, the Wanderers will be able to return to the newly named Bankwest Stadium, they’ll play their first game there in July in an exhibition match against Leeds United.
Lowlight: Their second year in a row of missing finals football, despite boasting a talented squad.
The Brisbane Roar. There doesn’t seem much to say for the A-Leagues last surviving Queenslanders. The loss of another talented Australian striker (Adam Taggart in the January transfer window – who despite not playing since then remains equal 6th on the leading goalscorer), a few seasons after losing Jamie Maclaren hurt their effectiveness in front of the net. The main story for Brisbane was a late season one, with the news breaking this week that new coach Robbie Fowler will oversee the departure of 14 players during the off season. Will this pay off? Only time will tell for the Roar.
Highlight: The Future? A fairly bleak season for the Roar ended with the announcement of Robbie Fowler
Lowlight: The Round 17 loss to Adelaide, Adelaide received a red card in the 9th minute, and Brisbane led 3-0 after 43 minutes. Brisbane received 2 red cards in the second half and conceded 4 goals to lose 4-3.
Central Coast Mariners
Another year, another forgettable season. 3 of the last 4 seasons Mariners have ‘won’ the wooden spoon, and haven’t made the top 6 since the 2013-14 season. One slim positive to take from this season is that after appointing former Matilda’s coach Alen Stajcic as a ‘care-taker coach’ – the Mariners played 6 games, and won 2 of the 3 games they won all season.
Highlight: The Mariners won the tournament is use of young players, with the lowest average squad age (25.1), and the most players under 24 years old used in a match (8).
Lowlight: Mike Mulveys sacking after their 8-2 loss to Wellington in Round 21
Despite the sadness suffered by many fans at the end of another season, the A-League will return again for its 15th season later in the year. The biggest story is of course the addition of Western United in the 2019-2020 season, so how will the competition fare will an extra team? Who will be the next big marquee signing? Who will win the competition and who will come up short?
All these questions and more will be answered in next year, but not before this years finals. If you’d like to read more about this years finals series, click here for Now UCs Preview.