Season Preview: Western Sydney Wanderers

We preview the season ahead for Western Sydney Wanderers who experienced unprecedented success in their inaugural year in the Hyundai A-League.

We preview the season ahead for Western Sydney Wanderers who experienced unprecedented success in their inaugural year in the Hyundai A-League.

Team

It-s doubtful many people predicted just how successful the Western Sydney Wanderers would be in their first season in the Hyundai A-League. While coach Tony Popovic and his players maintained the club set their own private goals in pre-season and were not surprised by their remarkable run, the feat of a new team finishing top of the table in their inaugural season is unrivalled in Australian sport.

Last year the club started the season slowly, taking nearly 300 minutes to register their first goal. However Mark Bridges- decisive shot in round four away to reigning champions Brisbane Roar, announced the Wanderers as a competitive force. The club would go on a record 10 match winning run and finished the regular season with the Premier-s Plate. A loss to the Central Coast Mariners in the grand final was the only thing that prevented a fairy tale finish and will no doubt have the Wanderers keen to go one step further in 2013/14.

This time around the squad have enjoyed a full pre-season together, travelling to China and Japan to help prepare for the season ahead. The trip will no doubt be an invaluable experience for the club-s foray into the Asian Champions League this campaign. The Wanderers have also recruited strongly in the off-season, with Brendon Santalab, Tomi Juric, Matthew Spiranovic and Dean Heffernan all set to challenge for starting berths in a side that has set a new benchmark for the A-League.

There will be no flying under the radar this term as the Wanderers have already been installed as one of the favourites for the title. The “full-house” sign will no doubt go up regularly at Parramatta Stadium throughout the year and the club have already sold-out their season memberships. Only time will tell how the club deals with this level of expectation and just how good they can be.

Manager

Head coach Tony Popovic has been on board with the club since day one. He was heavily involved in recruiting players to the club and turned the group into a formidable team. Having done his coaching apprenticeship with Sydney FC, where he finished his playing career, the former Socceroos defender also gained experience coaching overseas with Crystal Palace before taking the Wanderers job. Popovic is recognised as a huge coaching talent. His tactical nous and ability to keep a lid on the excitement of the Wanderers amazing unbeaten run were the driving force behind his side's success. This time around the big challenge for Popovic will be to ensure his side doesn-t catch a dose of the infamous “second-year syndrome.”

Star Player

Alongside superstars Alesandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey, Shinji Ono was one of the Hyundai A-League-s huge marquee signings last season - and he arguably had the best season of all three. The former Japanese international was the heartbeat of the Wanderers midfield and netted eight goals, all of which had a unique touch of his sublime skill. Ono has enjoyed a stellar career throughout Asia. He is a former Asian Footballer of the Year winner and has won the Asian Champions League and Asian Cup with club and country. Having signed on for a second season, the 34-year-old will again be one the Wanderers turn to on the field and that the crowds flock to the terraces to see play.

Fans

The Red & Black Block proved themselves to be one of the most active and vocal support groups in their inaugural season. Getting behind the team from day one, their fans ensured the side was always well supported, with the club selling out multiple home matches. They-ve installed extra seats at Parramatta Stadium in the off-season but the Wanderers have still managed to sell-out their season memberships. The fans had plenty to cheer about throughout their inaugural season and will be hoping this continues to be the case in 2013/14.

Ins and Outs

Ins Matthew Spiranovic (from Al-Arabi, Qatar) Dean Heffernan (from Perth Glory) Tomi Juric (from Adelaide United) Brendon Santalab (from Chongqing Lifan, China) Josh Barresi (elevated from youth side) Yianni Perkatis (elevated from youth side)

Outs Tarek Elrich (to Adelaide United) Joey Gibbs (to Newcastle Jets) Reece Caira (to Wellington Phoenix) Rocky Visconte (to Suphanburi, Thailand) Dino Kresinger (to Zavrc, Slovenia)