Wednesday, February 20, 2008

So, just who are the Boys in Blue anyway? A Q&A

Earlier this week, through the wondrous miracle of the Internets, at which all footy fans genuflect in gratitudinous awe, I held a back and forth question and answer session with Aussi blogger extraordinaire The Football Tragic's Mike Salter. Salter blogs regularly on all things A-League, but most specifically on Sydeny FC, Dynamo's opponent in the first round of the Pan Pacific Championship. (The two play at 12:30 a.m. Houston time tonight.) Salter sent me five questions about Dynamo, an I sent him my five to learn more about Sydney. (To read my take on Dynamo, check out his excellent site here.) And what follows below, in an effort to promote cross-cultural understanding and blah, blah, blah, are Mike's answers to mine.

1. Who is Sydney FC? How would you characterize the team and its style
of play?

Sydney FC is currently the only side in the A-League (our new national league) that represents Australia's largest city; we've been in existence since early 2005.

The team is a bit of a mix of old and young, with not much in between. Players like Steve Corica and Ufuk Talay were around in Australia's then domestic league in the mid-nineties, and have returned after various wanderings overseas; then there are the likes of Alex Brosque and Mark Milligan, who have been touted as future stars of the national team. The playing roster is made up mainly of Australians; currently our foreign players are Juninho (ex-Middlesbrough), who won't be making the trip to Hawaii, another Brazilian called Patrick da Silva, who has not had much first-team action this season, and a Northern Irish midfielder called Terry McFlynn, who has been a mainstay of the team.

Although we've had four different managers in our first three years, the team's style has only changed superficially in that time. We play without a great deal of width, often resort to long balls when closed down by quicker opposition, and rely quite largely on Steve Corica (and more recently Juninho) for creativity in midfield. On the upside, we're very tenacious, physically strong across the park and tend to fight our corner until the final whistle.

2. Sydney just lost a hard-fought game against Queensland earlier this
month in the A-League playoffs at the end of what seems to have been a
turbulent year, rife with coaching changes and personnel moves. How
hard is it going to be for the team to get up for this tournament? Are
they taking it seriously?

It's an interesting question. I have a feeling that some of the players will be treating it as a holiday, but having said that, there are a few whose contracts (I believe) are up for renewal or renegotiation soon, and they won't want to slack off too much.

3. Speak to some roster issues. Specifically: Who are Sydney FC's key
players for this tournament? Which players who starred for the team
during the season will not be making this trip? How hard will it be for
the team to cover for those absences, if any? Who do you expect to do
well in Hawaii?

Our key players are midfielder Steve Corica, Alex Brosque up front, and Mark Milligan and Tony Popovic at the back. Corica is a class player, good on the ball and an excellent passer, but he is getting on a bit. Brosque has scored plenty of goals this season, often while playing in a lone striker role which doesn't suit him, but he's been out of form of late (as I'm sure you noticed in the tie against Queensland!). Mark Milligan, who performed very well for the Socceroos at last year's Asian Cup, has also had a nosedive in form recently; Tony Popovic is a Socceroo veteran who had a shaky start to the season but has stepped up in recent weeks.

Juninho will be absent for the Hawaii tournament, but we have coped without him at other times this season, so we'll have to do so again!

4. Speak to the A-League as a whole. How would you rate the league on
the world stage? MLS, for example, has grown every year and is finally
establishing itself, but is seemingly forever in danger of becoming
mainly an under-23 and over-32 league. Does the A-League have problems
like this as well?

Yeah, we're in a very similar situation. There are youngsters just breaking through (Nathan Burns, Robbie Kruse, Nikita Rukavystya) and returning ex-Socceroo veterans (Tony Vidmar, Craig Moore, Tony Popovic), but most of the better Australian 24-30-year-olds are in Europe. The crowds have been encouraging, though, and the standard of football is not as bad as it's sometimes portrayed by our more snobbish local media.

It's hard to compare the league to others in terms of standard without some direct competition; we beat LA Galaxy in a friendly game last year, but the Galaxy were hardly going at full throttle. In the Asian Champions League, our teams (so far) have looked more or less on a par with comparable teams in China, Japan and Korea, which is also encouraging.

5. What do you hope Sydney FC gets out of this tournament, that is apart
from two wins and a trophy? Would a win here carry any momentum for the
club in its offseason?

A chance to build our brand (and that of the A-League), a decent hitout, and a few good tans. Our pre-season doesn't start until July, so in that respect it's sadly not all that relevant.

No comments: