The A-League Angle delves into the world of Australian football, analysing key talking points from the top-flight club competition Down Under.
Socceroos' moment of truth
Debate has raged for some time over the blooding of Australia's generation next in the national team. Will the Socceroos squad to face Oman in a crunch World Cup qualifier prove a watershed moment, or more of the same from coach Holger Osieck?
The squad will be named on Wednesday, and the absence of suspended skipper Lucas Neill will allow Osieck the opportunity to shake things up. A group of young defenders which have dropped off the radar recently may be given their chance to cement a place in the side, with Ryan McGowan (Shandong Luneng, China) and Rhys Williams (Middlesbrough, England) potential inclusions.
Robbie Cornthwaite (Chunnam Dragons, Korea Republic) has been used as a stop-gap player in the past, but Osieck must surely make this decision with at least one eye on the future. Neill's suspension, and the injury to Matt Spiranovic, invites the chance for a youngster to be handed more responsibility, thus building for the future.
The other school of thought is to include an experienced A-League defender, such as Jade North from the Brisbane Roar, or Perth Glory's Michael Thwaite. But, while this would clearly boost the profile and morale of the A-League, it is not as certain to benefit the national team in the long-term.
North's form since returning home from FC Tokyo has been solid, and his performance in helping Brisbane hold a potent Melbourne Victory side to a 1-1 draw at the weekend was admirable. The same can be said of Thwaite, who netted a stoppage-time winner for Perth away to the Newcastle Jets on Friday night, keeping them in the finals race.
The question, then, isn't about form or ability, but rather the direction Osieck wants to take his team on the road to Brazil 2014. Will Neill return as a matter of formality after the March 26 contest, resulting in an easy, short-term solution, or will Osieck reveal his vision for the future with a bold decision?
Elsewhere in the squad, other rising stars plying their trade in Europe should find themselves with the opportunity to bear more responsibility. Led by James Holland (Austria Vienna, Austria), the next crop of youngsters, including Tom Rogic (Celtic, Scotland), Robbie Kruse (Fortuna Dussledorf, Germany), Tommy Oar (FC Utrecht, Holland), Matthew Leckie (FSV Frankfurt, Germany) and Nikita Rukavytsya (Mainz, Germany), can make their mark on qualification now.
A-League taking shape
Timing is everything. The Western Sydney Wanderers have made the most of the Central Coast Mariners' slump in form to create a five-point gap at the top of the A-League.
The Wanderers surged clear following a 2-1 victory at home to Wellington Phoenix on Sunday, a result which effectively rules the New Zealander's out of finals contention. They now sit six points outside the top six with just two games left to play.
The result, though, may have been harsh on Wellington, who could well have snatched a point had Jeremy Brockie's last-gasp volley had dipped under the bar instead of crashing away to safety.
At the other end of the table, the Wanderers must now collapse in a heap to lose the Premier's Plate trophy. A run of nine consecutive wins has them flying high, but will Tony Popovic and his team continue their fine form through to the grand final? 14 straight victories seems an almost impossible mission, but then again, nobody predicted they would be in this position before the season started either.
The Central Coast's dip in fortunes have coincided with the commencement of the AFC Champions League, forcing Graham Arnold's squad to be stretched to its limits. This fatigue has revealed the weaknesses within the team, which exist primarily up front. The Mariners have not scored since their 6-2 thrashing of Melbourne Victory on February 23, taking them to three games without hitting the back of the net.
Striker Daniel McBreen is fast being reeled in atop the goalscoring charts, and his slide was highlighted in the 2-0 loss to Sydney FC this week. The striker turned over possession in the lead up to the Sky Blues' second goal, to cap what was a forgettable fortnight.
Whichever way Arnold looks at it, the loss of Tom Rogic to Celtic is now beginning to be felt across the board, and a lack of top-quality number nine gives the Mariners little opportunity to steal a point when the team underperforms.
Still, the race for top spot on the ladder is not yet over. If we have taken anything from the past seven seasons of the A-League, it is certain that there will be more surprises to come.
Thompson's versatility priceless
Melbourne Heart's Matt Thompson became the first player to enter the A-League's 200 club on Monday night. However, the occasion was marred for Thompson by a 2-0 scoreline in favour of the visiting Adelaide United.
Thompson deserved better in his milestone match, but there is unquestionably a missing ingredient for the Heart this season, with their tempo under coach John Aloisi evidently all wrong. Too many times this campaign Melbourne have struggled to get going from the opening whistle, with the margin between the lines of defence, midfield and attack too wide.
Back to the achievement in question, and Thompson's longevity reflects the value attributed to versatility by coaches, and for good reason.
Some see versatility as a weakness; a lack of ambition in pinning down a position as being one's own. But in a competition with a strict salary cap, the ability of a player to contribute across the park is held in high esteem. Hence Thompson's value, firstly at the Newcastle Jets and now at Heart.
The 30-year-old is one of the first picked each week, whether it be as a holding or attacking midfielder, left or right back, striker or, at a pinch, central defender. Basically, anywhere except in goal.
The options this gives a coach with a small squad, an even smaller bench, and limited funds to create the aforementioned is priceless. Thompson is therefore a fine example for young players across to Australia on which to model their game.
Total football may be a term of past vernacular, but a total footballer is always in vogue.