2014/15 Western Sydney Wanderers season preview

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The high expectations placed on Australia’s newest-oldest club, which is only in its third season, is without question a testament not only to the players but the staff at the Western Sydney Wanderers.

After making the grand final two seasons in a row and this year making the AFC Champions League final, there are questions whether their third season be a positive addition to their miraculous, albeit short, history.

Last season
A-League: 2nd
Finals: 2-1 (AET) Grand Final loss against Brisbane Roar

They’ll win the league because…
The high physicality of playing many matches in their pre-season and head coach Tony Popovic’s ‘keep players fit’ policy will enable the squad to rise to the challenge of their third season in the Hyundai A-League. The addition of many new players to the squad will not only provide experience but depth, along with the 12th man on the pitch, their active support group the Red and Black Bloc (RBB) hopefully giving them the confidence and support the club deserves.

These factors will shape the ambitions of the club to not only make the Grand Final again this season, but to actually take out the title. They do say third time’s the charm and hopefully this season for the Wanderers, it will be.

They’ll be cellar dwellers because…
On the other hand, they will have to play an increasing amount of games in a short time due to their outstanding efforts in qualifying for the Asian Champions League Final, consequently forcing a hectic domestic schedule during November and December that could ultimately be the downfall for the squad. Such ongoing travel will be an issue both mentally and physically and could perhaps lead to some losses both away and at home along with signings perhaps not living up to their expectations.

Talk around the water cooler… look smart in front of your colleagues with this valuable piece of information
Tony Popovic will be taking the reins of the Western Sydney Wanderers without assistant coach and sidekick Ante Milicic this season, with Ian Crook turning his back on his sky blue past to assist with the Wanderers. Central defender and captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley has been chosen for the latest Socceroos campaign and will miss the season opener against Melbourne Victory. Tomi Juric was also chosen but recently became injured, so he will be unable to participate in national duties.

The off-season brought…
A vast amount of changes to the team from Western Sydney with many fan favourites departing the club, including club captain Michael Beauchamp (PTT Rayong), Shinji Ono (Consadole Sapporo), Youssouf Hersi (Perth Glory), Jerome Polenz (Sarpsborg), Aaron Mooy (Melbourne City), Adam D’Apuzzo (Retired), Tahj Minniecon (Rockdale City Suns), Jerrad Tyson (Sun Pegasus), Josh Barressi (Newcastle Jets) and Dean Heffernan (Bulli).

Yet this brought in a new batch of players from all over the globe including cult figure Vitor Saba (Brescia), Romeo Castelen (RKC Waalwijk), Brendan Hamill (Seongnam), Seyi Adeleke (Biel-Bienne), Dean Bouzanis (Carlisle United) and Antony Golec, who was upgraded from an ACL contract to a HAL contract.

Unlike most A-League squads during the off-season, who decided to just play each other as preparation for the upcoming A-League season, the Wanderers participated in domestic friendlies with clubs such as Macarthur Rams, APIA Leichhardt and Canberra United. They also had an invitation only 10-day training camp at the NAD Al Sheba Sports Complex in Dubai and whilst they were there, they also participated in the IPIC Championship in Abu Dhabi.

Yet, there were mixed results both on the domestic and international forefront certainly spawning doubts about the Wanderers attacking and defending capabilities for the upcoming season.

However, this skepticism was diminished by the continuation of their Asian Football Confederation Champions League games, which had not yet concluded due to their progression into further stages of the competition. This saw them defeat the reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the Quarter Finals and FC Seoul in the Semi-Final (who were the runner’s up in last years final) – all achieved in their pre-season, with the final taking place during the regular A-League season.

Key player
Vitor Saba. He has already become a cult-figure in Western Sydney despite the regular season not even starting due to his presence in preseason friendlies, the Wanderers’ ACL campaign and his unmistakable beard. He started his professional senior career at Flamengo with the likes of Ronaldinho and later moved to Brescia. Saba is known for his fiery desire and passion to win games and make a difference when he is on the field, which is exciting for the supporters of the Wanderers but also very intimidating for their opponents.

He will be interesting to watch as he will be a key player for the squad due to his meticulous skills and amazing passing ability, which the rest of the squad will capitalize on. There are many hopes that he will become one of the A-League’s greatest foreign players.

One to watch
Romeo Castelen. After losing Hersi, the perfect replacement (and dare I say it, upgrade) is Dutch International Castelen. With a professional senior career that has spanned over 14 years with appearances at Den Haag, Feyenoord and Hamburger SV, it is clear why someone with such vast amounts of experience has been chosen for the Wanderers squad.

Despite being plagued with injuries during his career, the miracle workers at the Western Sydney Wanderers will surely be able to get him back into the best form of his career. There are certainly hopes that he will be able to tear up the wing this season and hopefully to score many goals for the club. He is also the highest rated FIFA 15 player, rated 70, in the Western Sydney Wanderers squad.

Full squad list
1. Ante Covic, 2. Shannon Cole, 3. Daniel Mullen, 4. Nikolai Topor-Stanley, 5. Brendan Hamill, 6. Antony Golec, 7. Labinot Haliti, 8. Mateo Poljak, 9. Tomi Juric, 10. Vitor Saba, 11. Brendon Santalab, 13. Matthew Spiranovic, 14. Kwabena Appiah, 15. Yianni Perkatis, 17. Romeo Castelen, 18. Iacopo La Rocca, 19. Mark Bridge, 20. Dean Bouzanis, 23. Jason Trifiro, 31. Alusine Fofanah, 32. Daniel Alessi, 33. Daniel Mullen, 34. Golgol Mebrahtu, Seyi Adeleke (number TBC).

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Jessica Csaszar
Jessica joined the team for 2014 covering Western Sydney Wanderers in the Westfield W-League and Hyundai A-League.

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