Youth League hides its light, as Sydney triumph
By Corinthian (Paul Green):
Foxtel National Youth League – Version 2 – Season 1 – 2015/20106 – Final
4pm, Saturday 22nd January, 2016 – Central Coast Stadium, Gosford
Sydney FC 5 (Alex Mullen 12′, 49′, Christopher Zuvela 23′, Max Burgess 40′, Cristian Gonzales 56′)
Adelaide United FC 2 (Jacob Tratt o.g. 32′, Samed Altundag 61′)
The National Youth League title has been decided for another year.
It all happened at Central Coast Stadium, far from Adelaide and not even that close to Sydney’s own home territory at Lambert Park, Leichhardt. Home advantage was sacrificed, with no home and away series to give both team’s supporters a chance to see them in ‘Grand’ Final action.
It was shown on television, admittedly, though in a low-key way, at 4pm on a Saturday.
Neither team was in the Grand Final as a result of a long, hard-fought campaign.
Adelaide had just edged their southern group to qualify in this revised format, that provided some degree of competition ahead of the new-look winter season that all the Australian A League clubs’ Youth League teams will compete in against State League opponents.
It was a truncated eight-game season and Sydney FC did enough to qualify, too, against their four NSW and ACT rivals, doing it with some over-age players, a luxury that not every club had put to use, Adelaide being a noted abstainer.
Sydney FC, of course, have fielded senior or foreign players in their team, chiefly to give them game time, when spots in their A League side were not available, rather than in an attempt to win matches.
Or in other cases when senior players, like Ali Abbas and Zac Anderson, needed a way back from injury to regain match fitness.
There was no Ali Abbas or Anderson here; neither were there talented youngsters like George Blackwood or Alex Gersbach, Chris Naumoff or Aaron Calver. all of whom have featured with the Sky Blues at Youth League level this term.
So Adelaide were not meeting a ‘stacked’ Sydney FC side by any means, their youthful side was tackling a mostly-young northern group winner, Jacob Tratt and Alex Mullen aside. Those two have not been seen in senior colours too often, either.
It looked like being a good contest and at the start Adelaide United appeared sharp enough to worry the NSW-based team.
An early effort from Dylan Smith shaved the left-hand upright, less than two minutes into the contest.
The same player got on the end of a cross from Jordan O’Doherty in the eighth minute, which Sydney keeper Anthony Bouzanis did well to claim.
At the other end, however, Daniel Araujo was at his creative best and laid on a pass for Max Burgess, who chose this game to return to his best; but in this sixth minute moment his effort went just wide.
He was to have better luck later on.
Alex Mullen was pressed into service as an out-and-out striker, in the absence of players like Robert Stambolziev or Blackwood, a less familiar role for the midfielder than usual, though he’s scored from an attacking position before, it has to be said.
In the 12th minute a long ball down the flank sent Nicola Kuleski away on the right and from the latter’s cross Mullen struck like a highly-accomplished marksman, to give his side the lead.
They never looked back.
Every time Adelaide looked set to get into the game, Sydney had an answer for them.
After another effort from Adelaide’s Smith was fired straight at Bouzanis, following good work by Ruon Tongyik, in the 16th, Sydney came back to extend their lead through Christopher Zuvela, who’s been a consistent performer in this team all season.
Araujo again did well, this time going well down the right and cutting back from the byline, with Zuvela’s finish emphatic, from point-blank range.
Araujo had done enough to make it hard for his team mate to miss.
Adelaide did manage to pull one back, however, after a 31st minute corner from Oliver Zafiridis was deflected into his own net by Sky Blues’ defender, Jacob Tratt.
Adelaide keeper, Daniel Margush, was kept busy all afternoon and did well to keep the score down in the opening period.
He saved well from Sydney FC captain, Yianni Spyrakis, in the 37th, after Bai Antonio’s cross had given the midfielder a chance that the alert keeper was able to push away in good style.
Araujo won the ball in the 40th, in centre-field and then set up Burgess for a near-post finish, a left-footer that was put away superbly to make it 3-1.
Araujo fed Antonio in the 47th, but, using his legs well, Adelaide keeper, Margush, managed to block the ensuing effort.
But that was to be only a brief respite for the South Australians.
In the 48th Cristian Gonzales sent over a corner from the left and Mullen headed home for a 4-1 lead.
It could have been 5-1 not long after that, but Mullen lobbed one just over the bar in the 53rd before Burgess had a volley tipped over the bar two minutes later.
Smith had another attempt in the 49th, off an Antoni Trimboli ball played in from the left, but the number 10 could not get enough power behind his shot to trouble Bouzanis.
Tratt made a big run down the right in the 60th to set up Burgess again, this time the keeper getting down well to save the day for Adelaide.
A probing, individual run from Adelaide’s lively Samed Altundag and a sound finish from 13 yards by the Reds’ striker brought it back to 5-2, which concluded the scoring for the day.
Later efforts from Antonio and substitute, Charles Lokoli Ngoy, were saved, as the same scoreline was maintained to the finish.
It was a reasonable spectacle and Michael Valkanis’ Adelaide United side played an attractive brand of football throughout, but were simply beaten by an even more motivated side on the Grand Final stage.
Sydney FC won the Grand Final for the third time and celebrated with the trophy on the field, no doubt wondering where their next honours will come from.
They’d played with more intensity and commitment over the 90 minutes than they’d shown in many of their scheduled season games, where results were probably seen as being less critical than match exposure.
Like Adelaide, who have a local season behind them already, Sydney will play against seniors during the winter months in the State League, in their case NSW’s NPL2.
Up against the more seasoned players at clubs like Marconi Stallions, Northern Tigers, Bankstown City Lions and St George they’ll find it a lot harder to finish first on the ladder, as will fellow-A League Youth teams like Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers.
And with no over-age players, or foreigners, available it is sure to be a lot tougher, especially when considered that there will be no promotion available to them, should they win the competition, after their first season at least.
Crowd: about 400
Sydney FC: 1. Anthony BOUZANIS (gk) (20 Nicholas SORRAS 86 (rgk)); 6 Nicola KULESKI (3 Liam McGING 79, 2 George TIMOTHEOU, 15 Jacob TRATT (12 Charles LOKOLI NGOY 85), 14 Cristian GONZALES; 17 Christopher ZUVELA (18 Emmanuel GONZALES 71), 5 Yianni SPYRAKIS (c), 7 Daniel ARAUJO; 8 Max BURGESS 16 Alex MULLEN , 9 Bai ANTONIOU;
Sub Not Used: Nil
Yellow cards: Alex Mullen 65, Daniel Araujo 79; Red cards: Nil
Coach: Robert Stanton
Adelaide United United FC: 1 Daniel MARGUSH (gk); 12 Mark OCHIENG, 3 Ruon TONGYIK, 14 Adam PISCIONERI (c), 5 Oliver ZAFIRIDIS; 16 Riley McGREE (4 Jordan PUDLER 46), 10 Dylan SMITH (9 Donovan POLLOCK 66), 17 Thomas LOVE (18 Jordan ELLIOTT 70); 7 Antoni TRIMBOLI, 11 Samed ALTUNDAG, 8 Jordan O’DOHERTY
Sub not used: 20 Sergio SIGNORE (rgk)
Yellow cards: Ruon Tongyik 11, Riley McGree 18, Thomas Love 26; Red Cards: Nil
Coach: Michael Valkanis
Referee Lachlan Keevers
Assistants: Matthew McOrist and Stephen Laurie; Fourth Official: Tim Danaskos
Points and ratings
Players noted: Antoni Trimboli(AU), Mark Ochieng (AU), Adam Piscioneri (AU) Daniel Araujo (SFC), Max Burgess (SFC), Bai Antonio (SFC)
Photo: Jaime Castaneda