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  • Writer's pictureCaydn Foley

A-League Men: FPF's most improved Team of the Season

Every year the quality of play in the A-League Men seems to improve as it continues to increase in its professionalism. Young kids are receiving maiden Socceroos opportunities for their domestic performances, and more veterans are returning to the competition to revitalise their careers. Below are FPF's 11 most improved players from the 2022/23 season.


GK: Joe Gauci

Joe Gauci earned his first cap for the Socceroos during an impressive season. (Adelaide United)


Throughout this season, Joe Gauci solidified himself as Adelaide United's first-choice goalkeeper. The 22-year-old was one of the shining lights during Adelaide's relatively successful season, which saw them reach the semi-finals. They ultimately lost to eventual champions, the Central Coast Mariners. Although Adelaide United conceded 46 goals this season, Gauci’s admirable save percentage of 67.4% was crucial in their efforts to secure a top-three finish in the league.


During Gauci’s impressive season, Socceroos head coach Graham Arnold awarded the youngster his first-ever cap for the national team against Ecuador in March. Arnold praised Gauci’s debut performance.


“He was fantastic; he was brilliant. He should be extremely proud of his debut,” Arnold said.


Gauci hopes to have another good season with Adelaide in 2023/24. From there, he could start thinking about an overseas move, as European scouts may show interest sooner rather than later should he maintain his excellent form.


LB: Jordan Bos

Jordan Bos earned a move to Belgium for a record-breaking fee last month. (Dave Hewison/Speed Media/Shutterstock)


Jordan Bos has quickly become one of Australia's brightest young stars and a future Socceroos stalwart. The young left-back and his talent kept Melbourne City captain Scott Jamieson out of the starting XI for most of the season.


The 20-year-old’s ability on the ball was crucial in City's ability to play their infamous free-flowing system, where they use one of their fullbacks to create attacking overloads in possession. As Bos came through the City academy as a winger, Rado Vidosic was able to trust him with the ball in an attacking sense.


Bos finished the season with a respectable two goals and three assists. With impressive defensive performances, too, he was rewarded with a move to Belgian club KVC Westerlo in a deal reportedly worth around $2 million. It's now the record outgoing transfer from the A-League Men for an Australian player. Bos was another youngster given his first opportunity with the national team in the friendly series against Ecuador.


CB: Nectarios Triantis

Nectarios Triantis has signed with Sunderland after an impressive season for the Mariners. (Central Coast Mariners)


After coming through the Western Sydney Wanderers youth system and failing to break into the senior side, Nectarios Triantis switched to the Central Coast Mariners ahead of the 2022/23 season. The 20-year-old secured a starting role in the Mariners' defence alongside Brian Kaltak. Triantis was a crucial part of the Central Coast defence that only conceded 35 goals, the fifth-best record in the league.


Due to the Mariners having the lowest budget in the competition, head coach Nick Montgomery relied on young players who either came through the Central Coast academy or from other A-League Men's sides who didn't give them the opportunity they deserved. The centre-back, who only had six minutes of A-League experience before this season, broke out and helped lead a young Mariners side to a solid defensive record. They also only conceded once in the Grand Final against one of the league’s best attacks, an impressive feat in its own right.


Triantis’ success this season has led to an overseas move to English club Sunderland, aiming for Premier League promotion next season.


CB: Tomislav Mrčela

Tomislav Mrčela was crucial in helping the Wanderers achieve the league's best defensive record. (Instagram: @tomimrcela5)


Often overshadowed by his defensive partner and club captain Marcelo, Tomi Mrčela has quietly become one of the A-League Men's most underrated centre-backs. Mrčela was one of the main reasons for the Western Sydney Wanderers' excellent defensive record this past season. The 32-year-old came into his own after joining the Wanderers halfway through the 2021/22 campaign as an injury replacement player.


Statistically, Mrčela was not far behind his counterpart Marcelo, one of the league's best centre-backs, surpassing the Brazilian in blocks per 90 minutes, where Mrčela had 1.3 compared to Marcelo’s 0.8.


RB: Callan Elliot

Callan Elliot made the right-back position his own with Wellington this season. (Twitter: @NZStuff)


Callan Elliot had a much more significant role for the Wellington Phoenix this past season after the retirement of Louis Fenton at the end of 2021/22. The 23-year-old Scottish-born New Zealand international was one of Wellington’s most important players, helping the Phoenix make the top six. The young right-back notched four assists, a team-high, and even slotted in a goal.


Elliot’s passing prowess was pivotal for the Phoenix creating the third-highest big chances in the league. However, should Elliot go up another level, he needs to work on his defensive ability and decision-making, considering he conceded the most yellow cards on his team and had a tackle success rate of only 62.5%.


The 23-year-old recently rejected a new contract from Wellington, so other clubs around the country will surely be keeping tabs on the youngster, as he has a lot of potential.

 

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CM: Josh Nisbet

Despite his physical limitations, Josh Nisbet solidified himself as a crucial part of the Mariners midfield. (Instagram: @joshuanisbet_)


Despite being one of the more undersized professional footballers in the world, Josh Nisbet has carved out quite the career for himself in the A-League Men. The 160cm central midfielder has quickly become one of the Mariners' first players on the team sheet each week. The 23-year-old’s passing ability is one of the reasons why the Mariners can keep the ball flowing and play Nick Montgomery’s gung-ho system that has won the hearts and minds of A-League Men followers around the country.


Nisbet is another shining example of the Mariners giving opportunities to players who would not receive them elsewhere and building a culture of hard work trumping raw talent. It culminated in the club winning the Grand Final in dominating fashion.


Many pundits around the league have felt Nisbet’s performances over the season are enough to deserve a Socceroos call-up for one of the upcoming international windows before next year's Asian Cup.


Graham Arnold has often spoken about building a culture of the “great fighting Aussie spirit.” Nisbet is a perfect player for this culture, as his self-belief and determination have made him one of the league's best midfielders.


CM: Calem Nieuwenhof

Even with a lack of A-League Men experience, Calem Nieuwenhof was one of the best midfielders of the past season. (Instagram: @calemnieuwenhof)


After not being given consistent opportunities in the Sydney FC first team, Calem Nieuwenhof decided to jump ship to cross-town rivals the Western Sydney Wanderers. Ultimately, it was Sydney's loss and the Wanderers' gain as Nieuwenhof scored four goals, grabbed one assist, and started every game as one of the Wanderers' key players this past season. The 22-year-old midfielder has elite-level defensive positioning and tackling ability. These attributes led to Nieuwenhof having 1.8 successful tackles per 90 minutes, the highest for the Wanderers.


It is an outstanding achievement for Nieuwenhof to play such a pivotal role in a side that finished the season with the best defensive record in the league. Considering the mere 600 professional minutes Nieuwenhof had under his belt before the season commenced, it's exceptional.



LW: Samuel Silvera

Sammy Silvera was an excitement machine for the Mariners' championship-winning side. (Central Coast Mariners)


After Garang Kuol made a highly coveted move to Newcastle United in the Premier League, Sammy Silvera had to step up and provide the goals and assists Kuol was providing for the Mariners. Silvera promptly got to work. Every week he offered dynamism on the left wing, helping the strike partnership of Jason Cummings and Marco Tulio operate successfully, as the duo scored 25 goals between them.


Silvera well and truly made the left-wing position his own this past season. After winning his first trophy with the club, Silvera will enter next season with extra confidence to take his game to the next level. The 22-year-old spent time overseas at Portuguese club Paços de Ferreira but struggled to break into their first team. However, the winger has progressed rapidly since then. He could make another overseas move after his successful season with the Mariners.


ST: Brandon Borrello

Brandon Borrello revitalised his career in the A-League Men this past season. (Instagram: @brvnd_n)


Brandon Borrello signed with the Western Sydney Wanderers after bouncing around multiple German clubs, failing to find a club that would give him the time he needed to make an impact. Wanderers head coach Marko Rudan's decision to sign the 27-year-old was inspired as the striker netted 13 goals for his side, leading them to a fourth-place finish.


Additionally, Borrello’s choice to return to the A-League Men for consistent minutes paid off massively for his club and international career. He earned his first Socceroos cap since 2021 and scored his first-ever goal for his country against Ecuador in March.


Borrello’s story again proves the A-League Men is a fantastic option for Australian footballers to revitalise their careers in the hope of seeking an overseas move to a top league.


ST: Noah Botic

Once given the opportunity, Noah Botic quickly became Western United's top scorer in 2022/23. (Instagram: @noah_botic)


Despite only starting ten matches this season, Noah Botic ended the season as Western United’s top scorer with six goals. At the beginning of the season, Botic wasn't given many chances, restricted to substitute appearances. But as the season progressed and Western's starting striker Aleksandar Prijović did not maintain his form, the 21-year-old was finally given starting opportunities.


The young striker quickly made the most of his chances. In only his third start of the season, Botic opened his account in a 3-2 loss to Adelaide United. Despite the result, Western United head coach John Aloisi rewarded Botic’s efforts with a consistent run of starts. Aloisi’s faith paid dividends as the striker scored four goals in his next four games.


Botic spent time in Bundesliga side Hoffenheim’s youth system but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, European youth competitions were halted, leaving Botic stuck in a foreign country with no football ahead of him, leading to a move back home to the A-League Men.


Botic has made a name for himself in the league this season, with many seeing him as a future starting striker for the Socceroos.



RW: Marco Tilio

Marco Tilio improved dramatically this past season, leading to careful scouting by European clubs. (Instagram: @marcotilio_)


Melbourne City’s diminutive winger Marco Tilio made a big statistical jump this season, reaching double figures in goals for the first time in his career and registering five assists. Tilio provided the second most goals and assists for Melbourne City behind goal-scoring machine Jamie Maclaren.


Before the season, Tilio had often been reprimanded for his poor defensive ability and constant failure to track back and help out of possession. However, Melbourne City head coach Rado Vidosic praised him for constantly aiming to improve his defensive work rate and feels his efforts have resulted in an improved season this year.


Tilio is another young player seemingly bound for Europe, proving Melbourne City is one of the best in nurturing young talent.

 

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