Sunday's games involve rebuilding projects, a renamed stadium and four coaches in their first full season at the helm. While three of the four clubs made the finals last year, Sunday's games feel like the undercard compared the more high profile fixtures on the front end of the weekend. The two games in Wellington and Adelaide might not attract the same headlines, but Sunday's matches are an important first step in all four camps.
Sunday October 13:
- Wellington Phoenix v Brisbane Roar - Westpac Stadium
2012/13 was a disaster for Wellington Phoenix, as they finished dead last in the A-League and won the fewest games in the league. Only once did the win twice in a single month while foundation manager Ricki Herbert was let go in late February after winning just once in nine after New Years. In the offseason, former Melbourne Victory boss Ernie Merrick was brought in to change the culture and introduce a youth movement at New Zealand's only A-League club. Merrick has signed young talent from both Australia (Reece Caira, Josh Brindell-South and Lewis Italiano) and New Zealand (Alex Rufer) and added it to two Costa Ricans (Carlos Hernandez and Kenny Cunningham) to give a new look to the future and the present. Despite the emphasis on youth, Merrick will still rely on some of the old guard with a core of Kiwi internationals across the roster, including last year's leading scorer Jeremy Brockie, who is fresh off of a winter-long loan at Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. The pre-season has been a mixed bag as Merrick has tried to work in youngsters while dealing with an All Whites tournament and several injuries. But playing the season opener at the Cake Tin will surely help, after the Phoenix recorded five of their seven 2012/13 wins in Wellington. Brisbane are probably the better side, but the Phoenix can never be counted out at home.
Brisbane made its coaching change mid-way through last season with Mike Mulvey replacing Rado Vidosic (who has since joined Sydney FC as an assistant) after 11 games. Mulvey, formerly an assistant and caretaker at now-defunct Gold Coast United, led the Roar to the finals with a strong finish, losing only twice after January and earning fifth place. Mulvey's first full season in charge will begin at Wellington, where the Roar drew 1-1 last year. The club's biggest offseason acquisition was a Matt McKay, the club's former captain and a foundation signing from 2005. Unfortunately for Brisbane, McKay will be with the Socceroos for friendly against France and will miss the season opener. Mulvey is currently petitioning FFA and Holger Osieck to get the former Rangers midfielder back for the Roar's home opener against Sydney FC. While McKay and Liam Miller have come in, Brisbane have lost Mitch Nichols, Steven Lustica, Ben Halloran and Massimo Murdocca during the offseason. Mulvey will be relying on standbys Thomas Broich and last year's leading scorer Besart Berisha to lead the way, along with McKay. During the pre-season, the Roar allowed only two goals in four games against A-League competition and won every single game, regardless of opponent, since July 23, including a 4-1 beating of Sydney FC in mid-September. While other clubs have made many changes, if Brisbane's top players continue to perform as they have over the past three years, the Roar should be a finals team and should expect a result against a Wellington side with more than a few questions to answer.
Sunday October 13:
- Adelaide United v Perth Glory - Coopers Stadium
Of all the changes in the A-League ahead of the 2013/14 season, none have been more pronounced than at Adelaide United where Josep Gombau has taken charge. The Spaniard moved to South Australia after a successful stint at Kitchee in Hong Kong and has vowed to implement his Barcelona-based system at the Coopers Stadium. Gone are the likes of Dario Vidošić, Iain Ramsay and Iain Fyfe while Michael Zullo, Tarek Elrich, Steven Luštica, Brent McGrath and two Spanish players from lower divisions in Cirio and Isaías have joined Gombau's revolution. All of the changes, on top of injuries to old regulars Bruce Djite and Cassio, mean Gombau really is working with an entirely new group. The fluidity of play, the morphing in and out of formations and the attacking sequences should be a welcome sight in Adelaide this season. Equally noteworthy for the Reds is their allowance of a single goal in A-League pre-season matches (an own-goal was at fault in a draw against Western Sydney Wanderers). Gombau's 'movements' are sure to pique interest across the country and the Reds could get off to a fast start with two home games to kick off the season. But is it all too much, too quickly? One week is not satisfactory to judge a wholly new regime in South Australia, whether the result is good or bad.
Perth Glory's season preparations began last year with the sacking of Ian Ferguson and the hiring of Alistair Edwards. The former Glory striker took over amid a five-game losing streak and brought Perth into the finals, only losing an elimination final by allowing a two very late goals against Melbourne Victory. Edwards has reshaped his roster after taking over on a full-time basis, adding good pieces like striker Jamie Maclaren, Brazilian Sidnei Sciola, teenaged starlet Daniel De Silva and his sons, Ryan and Cameron Edwards. With Shane Smeltz missing the start of the season due to hip surgery recovery, it will be key for the Glory's new attackers to play more like they did in a 3-0 rout of Sydney FC in late September. Perth scored just 29 times in 27 games last season and only reached the finals on the strength of their defense. Edwards brings back the meat of his defensive unit, led by All-Star Josh Risdon and Michael Thwaite, who toyed moving to MLS in the offseason. While facing Adelaide United in Week 1 might not be the truest test of how the Glory will fare this year, it will be important to get any kind of result as Perth do not get a home game until October 27.