Adam Le Fondre's potential impact, Sam Kerr's adjustment to life in Europe, Riku Danzaki finding his feet at Brisbane Roar, progress on a National Second Tier, and a word of temperance after a big week for A-League crowds. It's all here, and more, in the ESPN Australia and New Zealand Football Wrap!
It seemed that Australian football died last week, only to rise triumphant five days later.
On Monday, the presence of just 990 fans at AAMI Park for Western United's 2-0 win over the Newcastle Jets set a new low-point for A-League attendances; "beating" the previous mark held by a doomed North Queensland Fury against Brisbane Roar in 2010-11.
The unwanted record attracted significant attention from a mainstream media normally loath to cover any facet of the local scene -- even Channel Ten's The Project weighing into the discourse as the A-League seemingly circled the drain.
Of course, a rowdy 20,336 fans then packed into Bankwest Stadium to watch the Wanderers stage a smash and grab win over Sydney, showing that reports of the death of the competition had been greatly exaggerated.
But before backslapping from the boxes on high becomes too prevalent, it should be observed that in much the same way that Western United's low crowds don't represent the death of the A-League, a Sydney Derby producing a rumbustious air doesn't mean that serious work doesn't still need to be done.
Still buzzing after last night's #SydneyDerby 🔥— Bankwest Stadium (@BankwestStadium) May 2, 2021
We can't wait to have the @wswanderersfc back next Saturday night v @wufcofficial. Be part of the action: https://t.co/tpsbQyM8KV #WSW pic.twitter.com/3fpmHitmYn
A raucous atmosphere for a rivalry that constitutes the closest thing the A-League has for a blood feud, in the country's best football stadium, and with major finals ramifications should be an expectation. And, despite the positive spirit, there were still familiar bugbears such as over-policing.
Players often talk about the cultural transformation required in squads undergoing a rebuild; one where hard work and an expectation of excellence is embedded in every facet of day-to-day life until it simply becomes routine.
It's an attitude that should be adopted as the game seeks to rebound from the lows it has experienced in recent times.
While a simple dotting of i's and crossing of t's by powerbrokers, given Australian football's history, may appear a revolutionary act of competence -- such actions need to rapidly become customary and the bar for celebration raised significantly higher.
At some point, games featuring enthralling atmospheres should be targeted as the norm and not a cause for celebratory posting.
Moves by a well-remunerated executive and administrative class to work with authorities to defend supporters, defend fans from thinly-veiled talkback bigotry, and work with local communities to grow the game, meanwhile, would be met, as Chris Rock might say, with the response of "what you want? A cookie?"
ALF back just in time for wasteful Sky Blues
Sydney FC monopolised possession and created more shooting opportunities against the Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday night, but continued their miserly run of form against their cross-town foes as they fell to a 3-2 defeat.
Dominating the ball isn't always a recipe for success with the "Arnie-ball" system, and the Sky Blues were duly punished at Wanderland by a WSW outfit that feasted in transition and, somehow, with a set-piece header from 5-ft-8 Scott McDonald.
It's no secret that the Harboursiders have struggled mightily converting chances in 2020-21, significantly underperforming their expected goals (xG) a season on from outperforming it 52 to 50.6.
Acknowledging this, Sydney FC sealed the return of Adam Le Fondre in late April, ostensibly giving their regular season run home and finals campaign a significant boost.
Per ESPN Stats and Info, the English attacker significantly outperformed his xG across his two previous seasons with Sydney FC -- scoring 18 and 21 actual goals against expected figures of 15.33 and 17.14.
Admittedly somewhat tempering expectations, across his 23 games in the Indian Super League, Le Fondre's actual tally of 11 was almost the exact same as his expected sum of 10.19.
But given Sydney's wastefulness in front of goal, even a marriage between expected and actual goals represents a boost.
Good Football Thing of the Week
Great touch and a tidy finish from young Joseph Champness.
Work on Second Division continues
Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) chairperson Nick Galatas has reiterated that the organisation remains committed to delivering a final report on its preferred model of a much-anticipated Australian second tier.
The AAFC unveiled an initial paper into a potential national second division (NSD) in January this year which, for the first time, gave insight not just into the format advocates for a second-tier's introduction envision, but also the costings behind it.
The collective had hoped to present a finalised version of this report around Easter but, speaking to ESPN, Galatas said a desire to take on feedback from Football Australia and present the best report possible had seen that date pushed back.
"We're talking to Football Australia," he said. "As we would have hoped, given our initiative and bearing in mind they've repeatedly said it's a matter of when and how, not if, a national second division will be introduced, they've acted. And that's good.
"They're out there, they're developing modelling as I understand it, they're consulting with member federations and other stakeholders. And their timeframe is a bit different to ours, which isn't surprising.
"They've got the introduction of the domestic transfer system, the domestic match calendar, with the uniform registration and transfer windows to deal with. They're immediate issues and affect the national second division. All those things. That's no problem for us. And we want to incorporate them into our final model too."
Galatas told ESPN the AAFC now intends to finalise its report by the end of June, following a summit of its member clubs in Sydney with Football Australia that month, and then submit it to the federation; setting the table for what Galatas hopes will be further collaboration and cooperation over the second-tier's introduction.
"That's our report," he said. "I'm not saying that's going to be Football Australia's final model, nor it's timetable, because that would be me putting a timeline on them and I can't do that. I'm not in a position [to do that] and I don't want to do that. It's not my job to do that.
"But we'll have a finalised document to give to Football Australia after that and we're in their hands, in a sense, but we're confident our final model will be persuasive and most importantly, the one which represents best what the clubs can deliver while bearing in mind Football Australia's XI Principles and aims."
Kerr shining in the Champions League
Strong as the defences across Europe can be, Sam Kerr's biggest challenge may very well arrive on the training fields of Cobham every week.
Over a year on from her move to Chelsea, Perth Glory's former talisman has comfortably shaken off the difficult transition she was forced to make -- mid-pandemic -- to English football to become one of the most lethal finishers in world football.
ESPN's experts ranked the 27-year-old as the second best player in the world back in March, with Kathleen McNamee writing that "The Australia captain's ability has never been in doubt, but it's obvious something has clicked for her this season and she has gone from appearances off the bench to building a partnership [with Fran Kirby] to rival Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min."
Since that list was compiled, Kerr has moved alongside Arsenal's Vivianne Miedema atop the goal-scoring charts in the Women's Super League as Chelsea all but wrap up the crown and, on Sunday evening, helped her side overturn a first leg deficit against Bayern Munich and dramatically qualify for the UEFA Women's Champions League final.
Safe to say, vindication for her decision to test herself in Europe is further hammered home with every accolade achieved.
"[The WSL is] very different from the U.S.," explained Kerr. "It's a lot less transitional, there's more games, and there's different competitions.
"I think there's bigger differences in the top and bottom teams, so you see a lot more teams drop into a lower block, which is not something you really faced that much in America. Everyone there is gung ho and trying to win it, whereas here there are a lot more tactics and trying to block teams.
"For a player like me it's more frustrating, but that's why I came here -- I wanted to be challenged. When it gets into a foot race or the space behind that's when I come alive."
Good Social Media Thing of the Week
The thought of playing against a backline featuring Sasa Ognenovski and Patrick Kisnorbo, even if it's in a charity game, is absolutely terrifying.
Some football royalty on the pitch as we kick off the Tony Clarke Memorial Day between a match between the Copperoos and the former Socceroos pic.twitter.com/9CDogxSo3g— South Melbourne FC (@smfc) May 1, 2021
Kudo backs Danzaki Roar progress
Warren Moon's recruitment of Riku Danzaki was a slightly unorthodox one heading into 2020-21 -- using one of his club's foreign player slots on youngster from a club that, unlike Yokohama F. Marinos to Melbourne City loanee Naoki Tsubaki, doesn't have a pre-existing relationship with his club.
Nonetheless, since arriving from J-League side Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, he has established himself as a mainstay of Roar's attack in starting all but one game across the Queenslander's attack and adding six goals and an assist.
Danzaki's teammate and fellow Japanese import Masato Kudo believes that the combination of regular game time and unfamiliar surroundings he is receiving in Queensland will prove a boon for his development.
"It could be quite significant for young players like Riku to obtain chances to play games continuously for their growth," Kudo told ESPN through a translator.
"I think it's very lucky for him to get in touch with leagues other than Japan -- different languages, and different cultures at this young age."
"I think there are many people in Japan who have the image that the A-League is one of the tough leagues that is physically excellent," Kudo said. "The physical strength [has been as] I imagined. I recognized the A-League as a balanced league where there are many players who are quite tough as well as skilful."