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  • Writer's pictureJake Holub

Australia Cup 2023: Six youngsters to watch out for in the Quarter-Finals

The Australia Cup offers excellent opportunities for competing teams to provide game time for their young talent to shine. Last year, for example, Nectarios Triantis and Jordan Bos enjoyed breakout seasons in the A-League Men following impressive showings in the Australia Cup. As the competition heads into the Quarter-Finals, Front Page Football looks at six U21 players to watch out for in its final stages.


Michael Cittadini - North Eastern MetroStars


Age: 20


Position: Left winger

Michael Cittadini re-joined the MetroStars at the start of the 2023 NPL SA season. (MetroStars)


It has been a fantastic year for Michael Cittadini. Returning to the MetroStars after stints at Adelaide United Youth and Adelaide Olympic, Cittadini has thrived at the club where he played his junior football. He has established himself as a top prospect in South Australia, thriving in front of goal as the MetroStars claimed the 2023 NPL SA premiership.


This rich vein of form has continued in the Australia Cup, with Cittadini playing every minute of Metro's Round of 16 and 32 clashes, notably scoring and assisting in their 5-0 win over Inglewood United. A tricky winger with an eye for goal, Cittadini will be one of a few Metro youngsters to watch, with Jackson Walls (21, right-back) and Noah McNamara (20, centre-back) also key players. The NPL SA premiers have been drawn against reigning A-League Men premiers Melbourne City in what will be a thrilling quarterfinal.


Luka Kolic - Melbourne Knights


Age: 19


Position: Striker

Luka Kolic celebrates a goal for Melbourne Knights earlier this season. (Melbourne Knights FC Instagram)


Typically a midfielder, Luka Kolic has been responsible for leading the Knights attack so far in the Australia Cup. Kolic has undoubtedly impressed in a different role, starting both games in the final rounds and providing an assist against the Queensland Lions in the Round of 32. Only turning 19 at the start of the month, Kolic is a bright prospect who has established himself as a first-team regular for the club, averaging a goal contribution every 144 minutes in this past NPL Victoria season.


Melbourne Knights will face Heidelberg United in the Quarter-Finals, providing Kolic an excellent opportunity to perform against the fellow NPL Victoria side. Should he keep up his performances with the Knights, A-League Men clubs will undoubtedly come knocking for his services soon.


Thomas Waddingham - Brisbane Roar


Age: 18


Position: Striker

Thomas Waddingham scored his first senior goal against last season's finalists Sydney United in the Round of 32. (Brisbane Roar FC Instagram)


The raft of changes made on and off the pitch this off-season in Brisbane has provided a significant opportunity for their young talents to shine. With limited to almost no striking options for newly appointed Head Coach Ross Aloisi, he has put his faith in 18-year-old Thomas Waddingham to lead the line during the Australia Cup. Waddingham has taken this opportunity with both hands, starting in both Roar games and scoring a fantastic header against Sydney United, who eliminated Brisbane in last year's edition of the Cup.


Waddingham's ability to physically match experienced centre-backs at such a young age has been eye-catching, causing defenders problems with his speed, power, and dangerous left foot. With many talented young strikers coming through Australia's youth ranks, Waddingham adds more depth to the growing list in the next generation.


It is also necessary to provide an honourable mention to 15-year-old attacking midfielder Quinn MacNicol, who has come off the bench in both of Brisbane's Australia Cup matches and became the youngest-ever goalscorer in competition history with a goal against Sydney United. Both teenagers will face a significant test in the quarterfinals, taking on a red-hot Western Sydney Wanderers side.


Aidan Simmons - Western Sydney Wanderers


Age: 20


Position: Right-back

Aidan Simmons celebrates his first professional goal last season against the Wellington Phoenix. (Western Sydney Wanderers Instagram)


A name that may be familiar to those following the A-League Men last season, Aidan Simmons was nothing short of a revelation for the Western Sydney Wanderers in the latter stage of their campaign. Typically considered a winger at youth level, Simmons broke through as the Wanderers starting right-back following an injury to Gabriel Cleur. He fit into the team seamlessly, particularly impressing with his ball-carrying ability and agility from deep.


After not appearing in the Wanderers' Round of 32 clash with Floreat Athena, Simmons returned at right-back against Adelaide United. Simmons had an assured performance at fullback in a comfortable 5-1 win, being substituted in the 79th minute for Cleur before the Wanderers gave up a clean sheet through Zach Clough's consolation for the Reds. Heading into the quarterfinal clash with Brisbane Roar, Simmons would be harshly done not to retain his starting position in the side, and the direct competition at right back between him and Cleur will only strengthen Western Sydney as they look to progress further in the Cup.


Jake Girdwood-Reich - Sydney FC


Age: 19


Position: Centre-back

Jake Girdwood-Reich battles for possession in the middle of the park for Sydney FC last season. (Sydney FC Twitter)


Yet another player featuring in a relatively unfamiliar position is Jake Girdwood-Reich, who has excelled at the heart of Sydney FC's backline in the Australia Cup. Despite being primarily regarded and utilised as a defensive midfielder, Girdwood-Reich has stepped in at centre-back for the Sky Blues following the departures of Alex Wilkinson and James Donachie.


Girdwood-Reich has featured in all available minutes of the Cup so far, dominating at the back with his tenacity and aggression, which is all the more impressive considering his age. Earning 14 appearances in the A-League Men last season, with only two being starts, Girdwood-Reich is giving Steve Corica plenty of reasons to provide him more minutes next season with his performances in the Cup. Their quarterfinal against Western United will present another opportunity for Girdwood-Reich and a youthful Sydney side to show what they are all about.

 

READ MORE AUSTRALIA CUP CONTENT ON FPF

 

Oliver Lavale - Western United


Age: 18


Position: Striker

Oliver Lavale made his senior debut for Western United against the Gold Coast Knights. (Hudl)


From sitting with the Western Service Crew to scoring on debut for Western United, Oliver Lavale is living a dream start to his senior football career. A versatile player who can play in midfield, out wide, or in attack, John Aloisi handed 18-year-old Lavale his senior debut after impressive performances at NPL level with Western United's Reserves. Lavale played the full 90 minutes against the Gold Coast Knights, eventually awarded his first senior goal from a scrappy goal-mouth scramble that opened the scoring.


Following significant praise from Aloisi after that 2-0 away win against the Knights, Lavale has given himself a great chance to retain his position in the side ahead of the upcoming quarterfinal against Sydney FC, a new challenge for him in facing professional opposition. With significant off-season movement at Western United following 13 first-team departures, Lavale is part of a new-look side that features youth and excitement in attack, also including the likes of Noah Botić, Michael Ruhs, Matthew Grimaldi, Jake Najdovski, and Max Bisetto.

 

Click here to read more of FPF's Australia Cup coverage!

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