Assessing The A-League Fixture
By Ed Wyatt
The 2013-2014 A-League season will start later and end later in a bid to mesh more effectively with Australia’s World Cup preparations.
Round 1 will kick off on October 11th, compared with October 5th last year, and the final round of the home-and-away season will finish on April 13th, about a week earlier than the date of this past season’s Grand Final.
World Cup qualification for the Socceroos is still up in the air, but there was some concern that an early end to the domestic season would leave too much of a gap before Brazil 2014.
That push further into April will bring the A-League into further competition with Australia’s two biggest leagues, the Australian Football League and the National Rugby League.
The other big piece of news concerns the weekly Friday night game that will air on free-to-air network SBS. Previously, all A-League Matches have been on Fox Sports, but unlike the UK and the US, only 30% of Australians have pay-tv subscriptions, so the FFA sees a weekly game on free-to-air as the next step in growing the game. Interestingly, there are no derbies scheduled for Friday night, with Brisbane Roar having the most games (9) and Perth Glory the least (2).
As for the rest of the fixture, it’s pretty straightforward. There are games on Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Australia Day with – as per usual – three Sydney Derbies (Sydney FC v Western Sydney) and three Melbourne Derbies (Victory v Heart).
Round 1 opens with a predictable choice: Sydney FC hosting the Newcastle Jets on SBS. It’s a reasonably high-profile matchup featuring two of the league’s best imports, Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey and will suit Sydney-based SBS from a broadcasting standpoint.
The defending champion Central Coast Mariners will open at home in one of those peculiar Australian traditions "the Grand Final rematch.” That means the Western Sydney Wanderers will travel up the highway to try and earn some measure of revenge for the 2-0 loss in this year’s showpiece event.
I’ve never been a fan of this particular scheduling gimmick, considering that both teams feature different lineups and the buildup is always about how neither team is out for revenge, it’s a new season with the slate wiped clean etc etc ad nauseam.
Round 1 also features a Melbourne Derby, and if former Victory man Harry Kewell does indeed sign with Heart, then the A-League’s most passionate rivalry will be even more intense.
A few clubs will be aggrieved. Victory will want to win early, since four of its final five matches are on the road. Adelaide has a brutal start, opening at Perth, returning home to host Victory in Round 2, then going on the road to play Central Coast and Western Sydney. And Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory, because of time difference, will not be able to host any Friday free-to-air games.
All things considered, the draw isn’t much different to last season’s. But the bottom line is, it’s just a draw. Last year most of us were worrying whether the Wanderers were going to be able to field a team. Look how that turned out.