Brisbane Roar and Sydney FC did enough to stay top of their respective conferences as the Y-League moved past the halfway point of the 2019/20 season last weekend - Brisbane thumping Adelaide and Sydney surviving a scare against Canberra. Just how much, though, does a win in the Y-League mean?
Welcome to the Y-League, the competition where everything's made up and the results don't matter!
With apologies to Drew Carey for the paraphrasing, such a statement – though obvious in its significant hyperbole – does carry some truth with it when it comes to Australia’s premier junior competition.
With the league not broadcast in any fashion and highlights few and far between, results are often the only thing that fans of clubs are able to go off when attempting to ascertain what level of talent is coming through their academy.
However, as a quick peruse of triumphant squads at U17 or U20 World Cups could tell you, winning games at a junior level is not the ultimate indicator of future success.
To begin with, coaches in the Y-League after often operating behind the eight ball before a ball is kicked thanks to a lack of training time with their squads.
Thanks to players on the precipice of A-League football training almost full-time with their club’s senior sides, Y-League coaches have precious little, if any, chances to game-plan or put in place structures with their sides ahead of game day.
“I think a lot about defending is about playing with those alongside you and building those relationships and having an understanding of how each other plays,” youth coach Lachlan Armstrong told FTBL last week.
“It is easier to set up teams in attack than it is in defence, especially if you don’t get to work with them day in and day out. Maybe that’s why we're seeing some average to poor defending, as a result.”
Beyond that, of course, is the important caveat that the primary aim of academies and junior is not to win football games – but to produce players that are capable of contributing minutes at an A-League level.
Is the academy that wins the Y-League but sends only two players to the senior team doing a better job than the academy that struggles in the Y-League but sends a half dozen?
Controlling for specific circumstances at senior level that may affect playing opportunities for youngsters, if an academy is regularly sending players to Australia’s U17, U19 and U23 sides and transferring players to overseas clubs but failing to get results on the field, are they considered a failure?
That’s not to say that the pursuit of triumph is to be totally discarded at a youth level.
Albeit in a more abstract manner than kicking a ball or laying a tackle, winning football games is a learned skill.
The ability to defend a lead when the opposition is throwing everything at you in pursuit of an equaliser, maintain clear and incisive thinking in pursuit of a winner as fatigue kicks in or find the internal strength to claw back a deficit and take a lead are – amongst others – mental aspects of the game that can only be learned by doing.
It’s also an inescapable fact that talent, generally, wins football games and that, the side’s regularly winning – year in and year out – can reliably be considered strong academies.
What is important, therefore, is not the dismissal of results at a junior level or the holding of them to be the be-all and end-all of junior development.
Results are just one part of a larger jigsaw that makes up A-League academy junior development - with long term trends being far more important than single games in vacuums.
Newcastle Jets 0-0 Western Sydney Wanderers
Opening round five on Friday night, midtable Conference B sides Newcastle and Western Sydney combined to produce just the second scoreless draw of the Y-League season at the Number 2. Sportsground.
Lachlan Constable and Jarrod Carluccio had the pick of the chances for the visitors in the opening stanza, Constable testing Lewis Italiano from range and Carluccio forcing the Jets keeper into an acrobatic save after being picked out by a cross from defender Dean Pelekanos, while Jack Simmons and Kaine Sheppard – playing in the Y-League as he returns to fitness – had the best of the Jets opportunities.
Ryan Goodhew and Maki Petratos went on to have chances for the Jets in the second stanza but it was the Wanderers that did most of the running from thereon.
Carluccio hit the crossbar early on in the half and Rory Jordan and Fabien Monge had subsequent efforts cleared off the goal line.
Nonetheless, the Wanderers did have one final act of defending to do to secure their point when substitute defender Paolo Bonanni cleared a Jets effort off the line in the final stages of what was his Y-League debut.
Brisbane Roar 5-1 Adelaide United
While goals at the No.2 Sportsground may have been hard to come by, there were no such troubles at AJ Kelly Park as Brisbane Roar continued their red-hot start to the 2019/20 Y-League campaign.
Despite early indications though, the fireworks were largely restricted to the second half.
Mirza Muratovic’s third-minute conversion of a penalty won by Jack Hingert and Lachlan Brook’s 17th-minute equaliser initially looked as though they would be the only to goals of a very warm opening stanza in Queensland, only for George Mells to pop up with a minute to go and make it 2-1 for the men in orange.
A second penalty from Muratovic, once again won by Hingert, gave the hosts a 3-1 lead in the 51st minute before, making all the headway in the second half, they took a 4-1 lead when Eli Adams teed up a cross for Jai Ingham to guide home in the 79th minute.
Muratovic then applied the sealer in the third minute of added time when he poked home from close range for his sixth goal of the campaign.
Melbourne City Youth 1-3 Melbourne Victory
Melbourne City’s winless start to the 2019/20 season continued on Sunday afternoon after cross-town foes Melbourne Victory punished some lax defending to claim youth Melbourne Derby bragging rights.
A thunderbolt from outside the box on the right-wing by Lleyton Brooks opened the scoring for the side in navy blue in just the second minute of play, before City striker Moudi Najjar levelled things up an angled, but much closer, effort in the seventh.
Parity, however, was only to last a little over ten minutes, as Victory punished some haphazard defending in getting the ball to the byline on the right flank and cut it back into the area for former-City prospect Josh Varga to fire home.
A calamitous mixup up the back by City in the 59th minute, when an attempted pass out from the back was intercepted inside the penalty area by their rivals, eventually allowed Brandon Lauton to seal the win and send Victory to second place on the Conference A table.
Canberra United 2-2 Sydney FC
Conference B table-toppers Sydney FC travelled to the nation’s capital on Sunday afternoon for the weekend’s final game, likely operating under the assumption that the coming meeting with a Canberra side that had only earned a single point since the beginning of the 2018/19 season would be a regulation one.
Yet, reality was waiting to give them a wake-up call as the hosts, after absorbing some early pressure, took the lead in the 23rd minute of play after Nikola Ujdur buried a shot in the bottom corner of the net to make it 1-0.
A near-post finish from Jaiden Kucharski tied things up at 1-1 in the 34th minute of play, only for the side in green to once again to get their noses in front in the 42nd minute when Luca Florez got in behind the Harboursider back four and chipped Levi Kaye.
On the wrong end an unexpected deficit heading to the rooms, Sydney FC was nonetheless able to rally and restore the game to equilibrium in the 49th minute when Young Socceroo Marco Tilio followed up a Kucharski effort off the post and tucked it home.
Though both sides would have chances to win it, that is how the contest would end – Sydney remaining on top of their conference and Canberra taking their first point for the season.
Central Coast Mariners 2-2 Newcastle Jets
Originally scheduled to take place in round four, hazardous air quality conditions due to the ongoing bushfire crises in NSW resulted in the youth F3 derby being moved to Tuesday night at Plium Park.
Former Goulburn Valley Suns youth player Alou Kuol quickly moved to make up for lost time once the action did get underway, the now-Mariners attacker getting amongst the best of the Mariners chances early before converting a penalty in the 27th minute to give his new side a 1-0 lead.
The Jets, though, were able to answer back before halftime when Kosta Petratos was able to get to his head onto a ball floated into the penalty area.
Taking the momentum from that goal, the Jets then took the lead just four minutes into the second half when Lucas Mauragis pounced upon a loose ball in the Mariners area and steer it into the back of the net.
But more action was still to come, as a Jordan Smylie run past three defenders and one-two with Kuol sprung the young Mariner through to fire past Jets’ keeper Jacob Italiano and make it 2-2.
Kuol had three chances to win it late for his side but, alas for the boys from Gosford, none of his efforts were able to find paydirt.