The eventual 3-1 defeat wasn't the best conclusion to it, but Saturday afternoon was still a monumental one for Western United’s Dylan Pierias.
More than two years after he made his first A-League start as a fresh-faced 16-year-old at Melbourne City, the defender finally got a chance to make his second when United Head Coach Mark Rudan inserted him into his starting XI against Wellington Phoenix this weekend.
As one would expect, there were both highs and lows.
The 19-year-old arguably had United’s best chance of the opening half in just the second minute of play when, after his teammates shifted the ball from left to right to find him in some space, he cut inside and fired off a shot that forced a strong save from Stefan Marinovic.
Slightly less-promising attempts – a shot well over the bar in the 25th minute and a mistimed effort on a volleyed effort at the back post in the 63rd minute – were subsequently created.
Unfortunately for the youngster, the night following his maiden start with Western United may well have been haunted by the spectre of Reno Piscopo, after the young ‘Nix attacker routinely caused havoc in the Green and Black defence in his forays down Pierias’ defensive flank.
It was Pierias that Piscopo rounded with casual ease as he laid the groundwork for Callum McCowatt’s maiden A-League goal in the 55th minute.
On what was a frustrating night for the right-back, there were also the mistimed touches, cheap turnovers and out of position errors that frequently come with an inexperienced player making an irregular start.
“Dylan got his first start and I thought he was pretty good,” Rudan said post-game. “It was a tough one for him as well, it’s always tough for a young player to make their debut for a new club.
“I thought he could keep his head high; he did ok.
“Maybe the goal where he missed that tackle, they’re those moments I talk about, those little errors.
“But I can’t be too critical of Dylan. He worked extremely hard and the majority of the time he did the things we asked of him.
“We look to look after the players as much as possible, we’ve got a big squad and a big enough squad to deal with any challenges we face.
“So, Dylan did ok, he should keep his head high.”
Pierias’ journey to making his second start at Mars Stadium was one of perseverance.
Bizarrely, he only recorded 22 minutes of A-League football for City following his maiden start against Brisbane in round 19 of the 2016/17 A-League season - almost entirely restricted to playing in the NPL and Y-League sides of Joe Palatsides and Petr Kratky.
Convinced to return to Melbourne for 2018/19 despite trailing with Serie A side Genoa, his continued absence from the senior team sheet and loss of faith in then-Head Coach Warren Joyce plans for him eventually led the youngster – alongside fellow City prospects James Delianov, Josh Cavallo and Luke Duzel – to sign with the A-League’s 11th side.
Though Saturday represented his first start at his new club, substitute appearances meant that the former Joey and Young Socceroo had already surpassed the 22 minutes he recorded with City in 2017/18 and 2018/19 across the opening months of the 2019/20 A-League season.
One of the major benefits touted by the expansion of the A-League was the ability to provide young players with expanded opportunities to receive much needed professional minutes at a crucial stage of their development.
And while Rudan’s side has largely relied upon a consistent, veteran core in their opening months in existence, the flashes exhibited by the likes of Pierias, Jerry Skotadis, Jonathan Aspropotamitis and Max Burgess demonstrate that there is also a promising collection talent waiting to be nurtured in Tarneit.
Furthermore, for an expansion side like United, a player such as Perias should play an important role in their efforts off the field.
A former junior with Keilor Park Soccer Club and Spring Hills FC, Pierias was born and raised in the Western suburbs of Melbourne; growing up in the same Caroline Springs suburb that now hosts United’s training base.
He is a bonafide Westie, a youngster that left behind the glitz and glam of Melbourne City and the City Football Group to come home and help build the legacy of the west by joining the A-League newcomers.
It’s a storyline that contains no small amount of hyperbole, but it’s a narrative that, if sold correctly, can endear both Pierias and United to the region at a time when the construction of such connections between fan and player and fan and club is paramount.
As former English Premier League boss Richard Scudamore explained when he visited Australia at the behest of A-League clubs in November, “the holy grail is the local boy made good”
In Pierias, United have themselves a local boy.
Now it's up to both he and the club to put in the work to make sure he comes good.