A leading star of Queensland NPL - who faced Neymar and Philippe Coutinho as a teenager - insists the local competition has talented players who could make an impact on the A-League...if they are just willing to focus.
Gold Coast Knights’ forward Jheison Macuace has backed new Brisbane Roar boss Warren Moon after working with him during his successful time in charge of Lions FC, a period that Moon capped off with back-to-back premierships in 2018 and 2019.
But the 27-year-old striker started his career as a professional with Academia FC in his native Colombia, making over 60 appearances in the country’s second division.
He also represented Colombia at under-16 and under-17 level, lining up against the likes of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho at a South American Youth Tournament in 2007.
Macuace recalls Coutinho as being the stand-out player in the competition rather than the PSG striker.
"[Coutinho] was by far the best player; he got a move to Inter Milan not long after," said Macuace. "Neymar didn’t have as much impact…I think he may have been carrying an injury."
Macuace made the move to Australia in 2013, following his long-time friend and mentor German Leudo to Brisbane.
After starting life with Redlands United, he went on to enjoy success with Brisbane Strikers and Lions FC—scoring over 100 NPL and FFA Cup goals, and being named in the NPL Team of the Decade to boot.
It was at Lions where the Colombian worked under Moon’s tutelage, and the man appointed Roar boss last month left a lasting impression.
"He knew how to get the best from me,’ Macuace told FTBL. "I enjoyed my time working with him. Warren is a very positive coach with a strong mentality.
"He likes to press high and encourages you to express yourself. I think he can do well in the A-League, he’s tactically very good and pays attention to the small details.
"All of his training sessions were 110%."
Moon was quick to secure the signature of Macuace’s former Lions teammate Danny Kim, and the 22-year-old has started the last three Roar matches, giving some assured displays.
This came as no surprise to Macuace, who highlights the midfielder’s temperament as being key to his success.
"Danny is very calm on the ball, and confident," he said. "He always plays the same, it doesn’t matter if it’s a big game or not. He will sit in the midfield and do his job.
"He can do this in the A-League and adapt to the faster pace—it’s not a problem for him."
Moon has spoken of bringing a ‘Queensland spirit’ to Roar, which may mean a shift from foreign imports in favour of giving local talent an opportunity. Macuace thinks there are other players within the NPL setup who could follow in Kim’s footsteps.
‘I think there is a lot of talent within the NPL," he said. "In the six or seven years I have played here, the preparation has improved.
"[However] there is a big difference in the A-League and NPL in fitness. Players need to be prepared to focus on doing the extra training necessary to improve. I know Danny was doing that.’
As for Macuace’s own career, the jet-heeled striker left Lions to join Gold Coast Knights at the beginning of the year—a decision he admits was not easy.
"I had a great time at Lions, but it seemed like an opportunity for a new challenge," said Macuace. "Gold Coast Knights have made me feel very welcome and I’m very happy here."
It is the Knights and Lions who lead the standings currently, but Macuace does not think it will necessarily be a two-horse race.
He added: "This is a good competition particularly now with the arrival of some players from NPL Victoria. We must continue to work hard.
"It will be difficult: there are some other very strong teams who can are capable are taking points from the top sides."