When rising stars stole the show in 2020/21

MORE young players than ever before were given the chance to shine for A-League clubs around the land throughout the 2020/21 campaign.

146 players under the age of 23 featured throughout the 2020/21 A-League campaign, 21 more than the previous record of 125 in 2012/13. It's the highest percentage (48.7%) of the total number of players to feature in an A-League campaign we've ever seen.*

Granted the opportunity to perform those young players shone, contributing to the narrative of one of the most entertaining seasons in A-League history.

Read on as a-league.com.au takes you through some of the best moments produced by young stars around the league in 2020/21.

*Stats collated by Andrew Howe

READ: Macarthur make intentions clear with five stellar off-season signings
Hard work a "non-negotiable" for new boss Papas as Jets squad takes shape

Nieuwenhof rocket marks memorable debut in Sky Blue

On debut against Wellington Phoenix in Matchweek 2, Sydney FC midfielder Calem Neiuwenhof capped off the occasion with a scorching strike from distance which rattled into the top corner less than 30 minutes into his A-League bow.

Nieuwenhof dispatched the long-range shot across his body from the right-hand side of the box to find the top-left corner of goal, leaving Phoenix 'keeper Stefan Marinovic with no chance of making a save.

Sky Blues star Rhyan Grant can be seen putting his hands to his head in disbelief in the aftermath of the magnificent strike, which Nieuwenhof will do well to top throughout the remainder of his career.

Goal of the Week: Calem Nieuwenhof | A-League

Kuol brace seals mesmeric Mariners comeback 

Central Coast Mariners young gun Alou Kuol was an unstoppable force throughout the early stages of the 2020/21 season, emerging off the bench for Alen Stajcic's side to race into the lead for the Golden Boot with six goals from his first nine appearances. 

In Matchweek 7 the 19-year-old was at his blistering best, coming into the Mariners' clash with Western United for the final half-hour of play with his side trailing 2-1 at Central Coast Stadium. Kuol was given minimal time to make his mark but he did so with aplomb, scoring a quick-fire brace to turn it all around in Gosford.

Kuol's four-minute brace not only helped the Mariners turn defeat into victory, but further enhanced his reputation as a burgeoning young talent. After his early-season escapades for the Mariners Kuol sealed a move to German side VfB Stuttgart; an exciting move for a raw talent displaying glimpses of his unbounded potential throughout the 2020/21 A-League campaign.

GOAL: Kuol brings Mariners crowd to their feet with winning goal against United

Hatch races into the A-League record books

25 seconds was all it took for 20-year-old Matthew Hatch to score the fastest debut goal in Australian national leagues history. 

The former Central Coast Mariners ball-boy came of age in Gosford in March, 2021 to score a sealing goal in the 81st minute to help his side to a 2-0 win over Macarthur FC. Hatch had come off the bench just moments before, bombing forward to receive the ball in the box off an Alou Kuol cut-back.

With his first touch of the ball Hatch swept the ball under Macarthur 'keeper Adam Federici to write his name in the record books.

READ: Ball-boy to record breaker: Hatch comes of age to write another chapter in Mariners fairytale

GOAL: Hatch - Local boy gets maiden A-League goal with first touch

Yengi writes his name into Original Rivalry folklore

The finish, the celebration, the vitriolic reaction: this Kusini Yengi goal in a tense instalment of the Original Rivalry had it all.

 Melbourne Victory hosted Adelaide United at Marvel Stadium in mid-March and took an early lead through a Jake Brimmer free-kick. But Reds boss Carl Veart brought Yengi off his bench in the second half, and the 22-year-old changed the game with a powerful performance.

Stefan Mauk had levelled the scores before half-time, and Yengi would ultimately tee the Reds captain up to score his side's third goal in an impressive turnaround. But the second of Adelaide's three goals came from Yengi himself, who proceeded to jump the advertising boards behind the goal to face off with the Victory faithful.

Yengi puffed out his chest, stood tall and sauntered from side to side, taunting the fans in the stand as the Reds came home strong to record a memorable Original Rivalry comeback win.

GOAL: Yengi sparks fuse in bitter rivalry

Devlin nets rare goal in some style

He's only scored two goals in his 51 A-League appearances to date, but 23-year-old Cameron Devlin made sure his second strike was one to savour when he rifled a long-distance strike into the back of the net against the Wanderers in Matchweek 12.

Better known for his tenacity in midfield and his hunger to make challenges and get on the ball to control play, Devlin's ambitious attempt from distance against the Wanderers took all watching on by surprise. 

The opportunity arose to strike on goal after Reno Piscopo's shot deflected off Ziggy Gordon to find Devlin situated well outside the box. Devlin controlled off his chest, allowed the ball to bounce three times before sending his shot on the half-volley sizzling through the air and into the top corner.

GOAL: Devlin - An absolute screamer from the midfielder

Goodwin offers a glimpse of what's to come

16-year-old Archie Goodwin came to the fore late in the season for Newcastle Jets to help his side scramble off the foot of the table. The teenager's last two appearances for the season offered plenty of promise to Jets fans watching on of what's to come.

Goodwin struck six shots on goal in a luckless display against Perth Glory, in which he could have put multiple goals to his name. He backed up that performance with an even better outing against Melbourne City, scoring his first professional goal in a shock 2-1 win over the eventual Champions.

Combining with Lucas Mauragis - a similarly exciting teenage Jets prospect - Goodwin collected the ball on the edge of the box before sending an effortless curling strike past Tom Glover into the back of the net. 

GOAL: Goodwin - The 16-year-old bags his first professional goal

Tilio and Colakovski set Semi Finals alight

Melbourne City came into the 2020/21 Finals Series with backs to the wall. The Premiers lacked the firepower of Golden Boot winner Jamie Maclaren on Socceroos duty, and fellow forwards Craig Noone and Andrew Nabbout through injury. Despite being the home side, COVID restrictions forced City to travel to New South Wales to face Macarthur FC in their own state. 

With the odds stacking up against the Victorian outfit, head coach Patrick Kisnorbo put his faith in teenager Marco Tilio and City product Stefan Colakovski from the start. The youthful pair went on to work in tandem to devastate the Bulls.

Colakovski was the first to put his name on the scoresheet, finishing off a cut-back from Tilio to put City one goal ahead in the second half before repaying the favour to Tilio just one minute later, sliding the 19-year-old in on goal to convert the sealing goal which sent City on the way to the Grand Final, and Championship glory.

GOALS: Colakovski and Tilio combine twice in a minute