Anderson set to break through

Sometimes, you have to take one step backwards to go two steps forward.

Sometimes, you have to take one step backwards to go two steps forward.

That was certainly the case during the off-season for strapping youngster Zac Anderson, one of Gold Coast United's most promising defenders.

Opportunity presented itself to the 20-year-old during what was an abnormally long break leading into the new campaign, with coach Miron Bleiberg faced with the unenviable task of rebuilding his squad from bare bones after the club's substantial player turnover.

United were heavily depleted - and some of the key names that remained opted to go under the knife in the early stages of the break.

At that time, established centre-backs Michael Thwaite (shoulder) and Kristian Rees (knee) were both recovering from surgery, and Croatian stopper Ante Rozic was but a scribble in Bleiberg's recruitment notebook.

That meant the coast was clear for Anderson to start most pre-season practice matches in the centre of defence, with plenty of time before the season's October kick-off to establish himself as a serious senior player.

Finding himself rocketing up the pecking order at breakneck speed - just weeks after playing a key role in securing Gold Coast's second National Youth League title - the former Young Socceroo took his chance with both hands.

"It came to me really early and I knew I'd have to bide my time for an opportunity," Anderson said.

"I knew I was fourth or fifth choice but I got four or five consecutive practice games under my belt."

"I learned quickly, how to conduct myself in a senior manner, and I've grown as a footballer and a person as a result."

"Being around that senior environment was really good for me - obviously I've still got a lot to work on but I matured a lot."

But the road to the first team soon turned bumpy.

Anderson was pushing for a start against Melbourne Victory in United's first pre-season match against Hyundai A-League opposition in early September.

The prospect of testing his wits against the likes of Archie Thompson, Carlos Hernandez and Danny Allsopp loomed as another brilliant learning experience for the Ayr-born stopper.

However, his battle with shin splints - an injury he was up until then pushing through despite the pain - became too much.

"I had to pull myself back. It's hard at that stage, when you're staking a claim for a first XI spot and you have to do that but if I didn't, I would have fallen even further back," Anderson said.

It was a sacrifice he had to make and after Rozic joined the club and Rees and Thwaite made their return from injury, it couldn't have been worse timing.

It also meant he had another tough task waiting for him when he recovered - making up for lost ground.

"I had to play four or five games in the youth team to get back to where I was. I had to prove to the coaching staff I could play 90 minutes again," Anderson said.

"I had to work hard at training and bring a really positive attitude but I managed to push my way back into Miron's squad."

"The gaffer rewarded me for my hard work and now I'm always knocking on the door. In a squad environment, that's what you've got to do."

"I'm happy with the decision I made and now I'm happy to be playing every day and training every week."

Now that he's had a first-hand taste of the kind of obstacles that tend to come your way in professional football, the future is bright for the ambitious defender.

Helping his transition into the A-League is his size. At 189cm and 88kg, Anderson knows he cuts an imposing figure and with the rough and tumble of the Australian competition, he's taking full advantage.

"Everyone has positive and negative attributes about themselves and I'm a big boy," he laughed.

"It does help in the A-League, physically I don't feel out of place - but it means I have to watch other things as well."

"Coming up against quick, nimble centre forwards I've got to be careful and it's a challenge I'm happy to take on board."

If he can deal with that the way he overcame shin splints, then Anderson might well become a very familiar name in Australian football sooner than we think.