An inconsistent campaign for Tony Popovic's side was punctuated by a disappointing home record and a premature exit in the Hyundai A-League Finals Series. We examine Western Sydney's season and look ahead to the 2017/18 campaign.
Position: 6th, eliminated in finals week one
Record: Played 28, Won 8, Drawn 13, Lost 7
Leading Goal Scorer: Brendon Santalab (14)
Best home crowd: 61,880 – Round 1 against Sydney FC
Star performer: Nicolás Martinez
Wearing the number 10 that has adorned so many of his famous countrymen, the Argentinean marquee was a wonderful addition to the Hyundai A-League. On loan from Greek side Olympiakos, his masterful left-foot, wide range of passing and dazzling dribbling skills made him an immediate crowd favourite.
Most of Western Sydney’s best attacking moments featured Martinez in a starring or support role and it was no surprise to see him poll highly in the Johnny Warren Medal voting, behind only Milos Ninkovic and Diego Castro. How Tony Popovic would love to have his services again next season.
Breakout player: Jonathan Aspropotamitis
Pre-season, it seemed the 20-year old central defender would play back-up to Robbie Cornthwaite and Aritz Borda, but instead it was the Australian youth international who started more games than either of his far more experienced team-mates.
He showed composure beyond his years and the obvious benefits of coming under the tutelage of former centre-backs Popovic and Hayden Foxe.
Goal of the year: Dimas Delgado
1-0 down and into the last quarter of the game against Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium just after Christmas, the Wanderers captain conjured up a sublime free-kick, curling the ball up and over a five-man defensive wall and past the despairing dive of Michael Theo into the top corner. A super goal.
Highlight: Derby delight
In front of 45-thousand fans at ANZ Stadium in round 20, Wanderers did what no-one else managed in 2016/17 – they beat Sydney FC. The game’s only goal came courtesy of a moment of pure composure from Brendon Santalab, who collected the ball in a crowded penalty area, twisted left and right before drilling an unerring shot past Danny Vukovic on 26 minutes.
Penalty shouts, mid-pitch melees and superb saves from both goalkeepers followed in the second half, but there was to be no further scoring. It had been 1134 days since their last derby win, and Wanderers fans celebrated this drought-breaking result against their fiercest rivals long into the Sydney night.
Lowlight: Consistency proved elusive
On their day, Wanderers looked good – very, very good. The problem was there just weren’t enough of those days.
A three-game winning streak late in the season was the only time they recorded successive wins and while they never lost consecutive matches, their inability to kill teams off (as evidenced by 13 draws) was one of the main reasons they only twice resided in the top half of the table all season. For a club the size of WSW, that’s not good enough.
What they need:
Finding a way to replace Martinez and fellow loanee Terry Antonis will be a huge task for the Wanderers. Martinez is the biggest loss but the strong rumours of Roly Bonevacia’s move to Wanderland would help alleviate his absence. Another striker to assist Brendon Santalab – who turns 35 early next season – is also crucial. Fresh blood is required to replace the departing experience of Dimas, Mitch Nichols and Scott Neville.
Acquisitions for next season:
Losses for next season:
Nicolás Martinez, Terry Antonis, Dimas, Mitch Nichols, Scott Neville, Bruno Piñatares, Ryan Griffiths, Liam Youlley, Stefan Zinni, Emilio Martinez.
Outlook for 2017/18:
Tony Popovic has the core of a promising squad with the likes of Vedran Janjetovic, Jumpei Kusukami, Robbie Cornthwaite, Jonathan Aspro and Brendon Santalab forming a strong spine. Asian Champions League travel won’t be an issue next season, which may well help Wanderers gain the greater consistency needed to mount a serious title challenge.