8 out of 12 ain't bad: which A-League clubs featured Olympic-bound talent in 2020/21

Two thirds of the 18 players selected for Graham Arnold's Australian men's football team for Tokyo 2020 plied their trade in the A-League throughout the 2020/21 campaign.

Some were near certainties to make the squad for Tokyo before the season began. But others forced themselves into Graham Arnold's thinking with brilliant individual performances in 2020/21, ahead of the football competition set to take place between 22 July - 8 August at venues around Japan.

Eight of the 12 A-League clubs featured Olympic-bound Aussies in the 2020/21 campaign, with Melbourne City producing the most (three) of any side in the competition.

READ: A-League stars dominate Arnold's squad for Tokyo 2020

Melbourne City - Atkinson makes last-gasp push to join two teammates in Tokyo

Just days after sealing the A-League Premiership/Championship double, Melbourne City will add another achievement to a memorable 2020/21 campaign after seeing three of their young stars named in Arnold's Olympic squad.

City have the highest number of participants in the squad of any club, both in the A-League and around the world. Two participants - goalkeeper Tom Glover and midfield machine Connor Metcalfe - are unsurprising inclusions, but the same can't be said for daring defender Nathaniel Atkinson, whose late push for a spot in the squad went rewarded after it seemed all-but certain he'd miss the tournament through injury.

Atkinson suffered a high-grade hamstring tear in April after starring for the eventual Premiers throughout the early stages of the 2020/21 A-League season. He admitted himself he believed his season - and Olympic hopes - were vanquished as he stared down a two-to-three month recovery period.

But Atkinson was to make a remarkable comeback, returning to action in time to sparkle in City's Grand Final triumph against Sydney FC.

Atkinson scored the all-important goal to level the scores at 1-1 in the first half and created six chances for his side on his way to claiming the Joe Marston Medal as the best afield in City's 3-1 comeback win over the Sky Blues.

Atkinson told journalists post-match they knew as much as he did about his chances of booking his ticket to Tokyo. But two days after the night he described as the proudest moment of his career, Atkinson completed the fairytale comeback by earning his spot alongside Metcalfe and Glover in the 18-player squad travelling to the Olympic Games.

It's one of the best stories of the 2020/21 A-League season which will continue to run through the off-season, as Atkinson dons the Green and Gold to help Australia hunt for medals in Tokyo.

City's Ramy Najjarine travels with the team as one of four Train On Players.

Nathaniel Atkinson: 2021 Joe Marston medalist | Highlights | A-League

Central Coast Mariners - A centre-back pairing of international calibre

The Mariners were resurgent in 2020/21 thanks to a coach in Alen Stajcic who brought out the best in a number of unlikely heroes along the run to a third-place finish.

Two of the standout performers along that run were central defenders Ruon Tongyik and Kye Rowles, who forged a solid partnership in the heart of defence to help guide the Gosford side up the table.

Tongyik has reaped the rewards for a brilliant A-League campaign in recent times. He received a call-up to Arnold's Socceroos squad for Australia's 2022 World Cup qualifiers in early June, where he made his senior international debut against Chinese Taipei.

Now, he's been selected as one of two overage players on the way to Tokyo. Not a bad month in the 24-year-old's prospering career.

Coming along for the ride is Rowles, who revelled in his role next to Tongyik at the Mariners in 2020/21. The 23-year-old contributed to eight clean sheets and 12 wins in 27 games for Central Coast this season, helping a team with three-consecutive finishes on the bottom of the A-League table into the 2020/21 Finals Series. 

Mariners fans will watch on with intent to see if their favourite centre-back partners combine once again in Japan.

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Tongyik and Rowles enjoyed stellar campaigns in 2020/21

Western Sydney Wanderers - Baccus joined by overage inclusion Duke in Olympic squad 

After returning to Wanderland on loan for the 2020/21 A-League season, Mitchell Duke has earned an inclusion in Arnold's squad as the second of two overage players taking part in Tokyo 2020.

Duke scored six goals and assisted two more in his 17 appearances on loan from Saudi Professional League side Al-Taawoun this season. He will bring deadly finishing and attacking presence to the Australian squad along with his leadership and experience, buoyed by bagging a brace for the Socceroos against Chinese Taipei on 8 June.

Duke is joined by 23-year-old Wanderers midfielder Keanu Baccus in the 18-player squad. Baccus played 25 times for the Red and Black in 2020/21, and earns his selection after helping the Australia U-23's qualify for the Olympic Games with a third-place finish at the AFC U-23 Championship in Thailand in January, 2020.

Goal of the Week: Mitch Duke | A-League

Sydney FC - Young Footballer of the Year earns Tokyo ticket

Just days after experiencing the heartbreak of Grand Final defeat, Sydney FC left-back Joel King received a spirit-lifter on Tuesday morning upon seeing his name included in Arnold's Australian Olympic squad. 

King earned the Young Footballer of the Year award at the Dolan Warren Awards on Wednesday, 23 June after a brilliant 2020/21 season. The 20-year-old's campaign ended in anguish on Grand Final day, the 28th game of a season which garnered 10 clean sheets and 14 wins. 

A young star on the rise, King will look to continue to enhance his reputation as one of Australia's brightest defensive talents with a strong showing at the Olympic Games.

King battles fellow squad member Atkinson for possession in the A-League title decider
King battles fellow squad member Atkinson for possession in the A-League title decider

Perth Glory - D'Agostino departs the west with sights set on a different glory

The hero for Australia on the night an Olympic berth was secured, D'Agostino ended his stint in Perth at the conclusion of the 2020/21 A-League season.

With his club future unknown, what remains a certainty is his inclusion in the Olympic squad. At the start of 2020 it was D'Agostino who sealed Australia's path to Tokyo with the decisive goal in a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in the third place play-off at the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020.

The 23-year-old produced just five goals and one assist in 16 appearances throughout a modest 2020/21 A-League campaign for Perth. But there's no doubt the decisive player in Australia's journey to Japan will have a key role to play when the men's football tournament begins on 22 July.

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D'Agostino ended his stint in Perth at the conclusion of the 2020/21 season

Wellington Phoenix - Reno Piscopo ready to make his mark 

Arriving in Japan after an injury-plagued season at Wellington Phoenix will be Reno Piscopo, one of the nation's most promising creative talents.

Piscopo featured for Italy at youth level but elected to represent his country of birth moving forward. Piscopo helped Australia qualify for the Olympic Games in 2020 and will look to take the form he displayed late in the 2020/21 A-League season into the upcoming tournament.

Piscopo played just 16 games for Wellington in 2020/21, but built consistent form heading into the final stages of the campaign. From the beginning of May to the end of the regular season the Phoenix were unbeaten in the seven games Piscopo played, including his starring performance in a 3-0 homecoming win over Western United on 22 May. 

Goal of the Week: Reno Piscopo | A-League

Macarthur FC - A-League newcomers take Genreau to greater heights

The Bulls acquired midfield ace Denis Genreau from Melbourne City in the lead-up to the club's maiden A-League campaign, and the 22-year-old's consistent form earned him a Socceroos debut and a spot in the Olympics squad.

Genreau featured 23 times for Macarthur in 2020/21. He never looked out of place surrounded by veterans such as Mark Milligan, Beñat Susaeta, Matt Derbyshire and Markel Susaeta in the Bulls lineup as he developed his game with the benefit of consistent minutes granted to Genreau by head coach Ante Milicic. 

Genreau departed his club side before the end of the season to join Arnold in the Socceroos camp, before making his senior debut against Chinese Taipei. He will now look to bring his confidence and class to an U-23 squad looking to cause a shockwave in the Olympic Games. 

Denis Genreau
Genreau let his quality shine in a breakout season at Macarthur FC

Western United - Arnold brings speedster Pierias into the fold

Dylan Pierias' consistent season for Western United has coincided with his selection in the 18-player squad bound for the Olympic Games. 

Pierias earned his selection after featuring in all of Western United's 26 games in 2020/21, starting in all but six of them. The 21-year-old scored six goals and assisted one other on his way to winning his club's Young Player of the Season award. 

Pierias' United teammate Lachlan Wales travels with the team as one of four Train On Players.

GOAL: Pierias nets a beauty against Macarthur

Australian Olympic Team for Tokyo – Men’s Football

Name

Position

Age

Olympic Games

Daniel Arzani

Forward

22

Debut

Nathaniel Atkinson

Defender

22

Debut

Keanu Baccus

Midfielder

23

Debut

Nicholas D'Agostino

Forward

23

Debut

Thomas Deng

Defender

24

Debut

Mitchell Duke*

Forward

30

Debut

Denis Genreau

Midfielder

22

Debut

Thomas Glover

Goalkeeper

23

Debut

Joel King

Defender

20

Debut

Ashley Maynard-Brewer

Goalkeeper

22

Debut

Riley McGree

Midfielder

22

Debut

Connor Metcalfe

Midfielder

21

Debut

Dylan Pierias

Midfielder

21

Debut

Reno Piscopo

Forward

23

Debut

Kye Rowles

Defender

23

Debut

Harry Souttar

Defender

22

Debut

Ruon Tongyik*

Defender

24

Debut

Caleb Watts

Midfielder

19

Debut

 

*All players participating in the Tokyo 2020 Men’s Football Tournament shall be born on or after 1 January 1997. However, a maximum of three (3) players who do not meet this age limit may also be included in the official list of players for the final competition. Mitchell Duke (born 18 January 1991) and Ruon Tongyik (born 28 December 1996) have been selected as Australia’s overage players for Tokyo 2020. 

Olympic Football