They'll be perenially compared to Western Sydney Wanderers, who went one step further in their debut season and captured the hearts and minds of the entire nation on their journey.

But Victoria's own western identity has faced innumerable challenges the Wanderers avoided. Mark Rudan's side joined in a financially catastrophic period for world sport, with Australian football hit among the hardest. 

They also joined at a time of record-low fan engagement without a purposeful home stadium - Kardinia Park a mile away from anything approaching true atmosphere - and given the relative lack of tangible community engagement in Western's A-League bid, it was almost a soft launch...for an entire club.


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The club's initial focus on bringing in top-class Australian youth semi-backfired as the likes of Sebastian Pasquali from Ajax - signings that brought a lot of excitement among eagle-eyed Australian football fans - quickly devolved into anonymous failures.

The travails away to places like Ballarat further enhanced the feeling surrounding the club that they just appeared a little homeless, dare say soulless, which is a feeling the Wanderers never had to overcome.

Whether it was the small attendances, the financial backing, the ostensibly less community-oriented approach or even perhaps an ingrained sentiment against the Western suburbs (something the Wanderers have expressed in the past), United never quite became everyone's second team.

So while Western suffered a poor lull in the middle of the season, in the process of losing five players including marquee Panagiotis Kone and (worryingly for Rudan's player relationships), star striker Scott McDonald, nobody seriously would have given them a chance to come as far as they did.

But like Rudan's Wellington Phoenix team before them, they always played a very entertaining brand of football, the dynamism his teams bring to the league make them genuinely fun to watch.

Now Rudan says the club has a fantastic base, and despite all evidence to the contrary, it's a little hard to argue.

“If you look at the last eight to 10 games, I dare say we’d be up there as one of the top teams in the competition,” Rudan said.

“If you have a proper pre-season to work with this current group, and add a few as well going forward, because we’re always looking to improve – we’ve got a fantastic foundation and a fantastic base.

“I think you can see just how much we’ve improved from the first game of the season to the kind of football that we like to play and want to play towards the end of the season,” Rudan added.

“I’m really proud of them. Things take time but for a new club – I know we’re not the only club to have gone this far as a start-up – but it’s been a hell of a ride.

“We have not had a lot of time to put this club together. To see just how far we’ve come, to make the last four and be one of the best four teams in the competition, I think it speaks more than enough for all of the effort that we’ve put in.”

In the end they were outdone by another Melbourne club with an even-bigger point to prove, the City Football Group's investment finally resulting in a shot at the league's biggest prize.

But given what Western United have managed to accomplish in one ravaged season, compared to what Melbourne City have in their entire club history, it's hardly a sore loss for the expansion club.

“I think up until [the goal], I think we were the better side,” Rudan said.

“We had more shots on target, we created the better opportunities, we looked the better side for me.

“I’m astounded by how well they backed up and how hard they fought throughout the match. I didn’t see any fatigue out there.”


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