Jack Hingert of the Roar and Christian Theoharous of the Victory. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)
Jack Hingert of the Roar and Christian Theoharous of the Victory. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

The A-League young guns your club should play

"PLAY THE KIDS!"

It's a common call across different sports worldwide - especially when one team or another is floundering.

Yet in the A-League, the calls have grown ever louder for teams to look beyond Australian veterans and mid-level overseas recruits, in favour of testing out young local talent.

The long-held view has been that it's difficult to ascertain which young players are capable of making it at A-League level - let alone overseas - when for many, the career path consists a long stint in the Y-league with minimal senior opportunities, before joining an NPL team.

The call for more young players seems particularly astute given the A-League has no threat of relegation, yet few youngsters fail to make the cut, while the likes of the AFL and, to a lesser extent, the NRL frequently blood and test out young players.

On Sunday, Fox Sports' Andy Harper said there was a 'bottleneck' for young players attempting to earn a spot in the A-League.

Nathaniel Atkinson. Pic: Michael Klein
Nathaniel Atkinson. Pic: Michael Klein

The prime case in point was City teenager Nathaniel Atkinson, who impressed on debut after a string of injuries and suspensions finally opened up a spot in Warren Joyce's side.

Joyce acknowledged fans were keen to see more local talent getting more opportunities, more often.

"There's a fine line and small window of opportunity, people need a bit of luck as well as help just to get a chance to prove what they can actually do," Joyce said.

"I believe there's talent here at this club, there's certainly talent in the state of Victoria that needs developing. It's just getting opportunities for them to show everybody else how good they are.

"I think everybody likes to see their own (countrymen) do well, don't they? They all want to see a local lad get into the side and do well. I think that's all fans are excited by that throughout the world. You don't know what levels they can achieve."

So if more kids deserve a go, which ones are the standouts?

 

These are the players from each A-League club eyeing a senior call-up.

 

ADELAIDE: RYAN STRAIN

 

Ryan Strain of Adelaide United. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)
Ryan Strain of Adelaide United. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

 

When Michael Marrone was suspended after the FFA Cup, it opened the door for one of Adeaide's youngsters to fill the gap at full back. So 20-year-old defender Ryan Strain earned his opportunity - and grabbed it with both hands.

Strain impressed on debut against the Wanderers, when he was given a starting berth, and was rewarded with two more starts. Such has been his form, Marrone

Interestingly, former Reds youth team coach Huss Skenderovic revealed on Twitter the Adelaide youngster had nearly quit due to a lack of opportunities.

 

 

 

"Ryan Strain from @AdelaideUnited 6 months ago was ready to walk away due to limited opportunities," Skenderovic said in a tweet to Perth Glory CEO Peter Filopoulos.

"I convinced him and his father to keep patient ..There are many jewels hidden like the talents we have recently unearthed in the @ALeague."

Meanwhile, 20-year-old striker George Blackwood has had to bide his team but is gradually earning more senior minutes and scored his first goal for Adelaide against Melbourne Victory last round.

 

BRISBANE ROAR: RAHMAT AKBARI

 

Afghan-born Akbari made his debut in November and showed a few nice things. That says, he's largely been forced to bide his time in the Y-League, having played just 20 minutes across three senior games. That's been as a late substitute at the end of games, with Akbari largely being given a taste of senior action, rather than playing a role.

At 17, he's still got plenty of time to earn more minutes - and that said, Aloisi has backed in 19-year-old midfielder Joe Caletti as a frequent starter, while the likes of Nick D'Agostino and Connor O'Toole have also earned game time of late.

 

CENTRAL COAST MARINERS: THOMAS GLOVER

 

Mariners goal keeper Tom Glover saves. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Mariners goal keeper Tom Glover saves. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

 

Currently on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, Glover arguably faces the toughest task around - attempting to crack a starting goalkeeper's spot. Current first-choice custodian - 30-year-old Ben Kennedy - locked down his hold on the top spot with a superb effort against Melbourne City on Sunday.

That said, the 19-year-old Glover would surely have hoped a move back to Australia would have seen him earn regular minutes. He'll need to find a way to get the No.1 spot back - and then make it his own.

 

MELBOURNE CITY: DANIEL ARZANI

 

Melbourne City's Daniel Arzani in action. Picture : George Salpigtidis
Melbourne City's Daniel Arzani in action. Picture : George Salpigtidis

 

While Nathaniel Atkinson is the current talk of the town, Arzani is another player biding his time in the Y-League.

The young midfielder has six career appearances for City, but none so far this season - though he has been on the bench. A stunning brace against Melbourne Victory in the Y-League derby would have helped his cause. As City looks for more creativity through its midfield as the season progresses, Warren Joyce could yet turn to Arzani to have a impact.

Similarly, fellow young forward Braedyn Crowley will also be looking to earn more minutes after some strong Y-League performances, including a hat-trick in the 9-2 rout of Melbourne Victory. He's played 17 minutes across three games. Defender Ruon Tongyik is another to only make rare appearances this season.

 

MELBOURNE VICTORY: CHRISTIAN THEOHAROUS

 

Christian Theoharous. (AAP Image/George Salpigtidis)
Christian Theoharous. (AAP Image/George Salpigtidis)

 

Teenage sensation Theoharous delighted Victory fans when he set up Besart Berisha's goal within minutes of entering the game against Brisbane. That said, the talented youngster has rarely been sighted since, relegated to a few minutes' action off the bench, before returning to the Youth League. The 18-year-old is pacy, crafty with his footwork, and most importantly, has the type of energy the lacklustre Victory desperately needs. If he gets a genuine opportunity, Theoharous could be the type of player who sparks Victory's season, just like Seb Pasquali did with a few magical minutes in Adelaide last season. The likes of senior-listed players Josh Hope and Pierce Waring will also be hoping to earn opportunities.

 

NEWCASTLE: JOEY CHAMPNESS

 

Joseph Champness. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)
Joseph Champness. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

A former Brisbane Roar youth player, Champness has come into his own at Newcastle this year. The winger has made five starts and been substituted on a further five times. In that time, he's scored two goals and assisted another.

Playing in a team that's got plenty of creativity - including the likes of Dimi Petratos and Andrew Nabbout - Champness has thrived when he's been given his opportunities. The next step for the youngster is more gametime, though that doesn't seem too far away.

 

PERTH: JACOB ITALIANO

 

Jacob Italiano.(AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Jacob Italiano.(AAP Image/Joe Castro)

 

While the last thing Kenny Lowe wanted was to lose his strikeforce of Diego Castro, Adam Taggart and Andy Keogh to injury, the massive blow has unearthed one shining light.

The youngest player to make his Glory debut since Danny De Silva, Italiano has been a revelation, playing every minute of his four games so far.

While he's yet to record a goal or assist so far, the 16-year-old has impressed with his tantalising pace and skill. Lowe's biggest decision is how he uses Italiano when the rest of his strike force returns.

 

SYDNEY: ANTHONY KALIK

 

Anthony Kalik. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
Anthony Kalik. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

 

It's fair to say it's not easy to break into Sydney FC's side.

But Anthony Kalik is having a good crack at it.

The 20-year-old midfielder, on loan from Hajduk Split, has earned time as a substitute in four games this season.

While it's hard to break into a midfield that features the likes of Milos Ninkovic, Josh Brillante, Brandon O'Neill and Alex Brosque, Kalik will be keen to earn more game time, especially once Sydney FC's ACL responsibilities kick in.

 

WELLINGTON: KEEGAN SMITH

 

Keegan Smith. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Keegan Smith. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

 

A prime example of young Kiwi talent, 18-year-old Smith made his A-League debut in Round 1 and has now played six games at the top level, making 20 saves. He's also now earned a professional contract with the Phoenix.

He also earned plenty of attention for blowing a kiss at Brisbane Roar marquee Massimo Maccarone as the Italian prepared to take a spot kick.

While 27-year-old Australian goalkeeper Lewis Italiano has reclaimed his spot, Smith shapes as an exciting prospect for the future.

 

WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS: MARC TOKICH

 

Marc Tokich. Pic by James Croucher
Marc Tokich. Pic by James Croucher

 

After a standout NYL season for Canberra FC, Marc Tokich was snapped up by the Wanderers on a two-year deal. A dynamic midfielder, Tokich's A-League signing was reward for a season that saw him named NYL player of the year.

The youngster was selected for the Young Socceroos but is likely to have to bide his time before appearing at senior level. That said, if Western Sydney's woes continue, we could see him sooner rather than later.



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