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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

Australia Cup 2023: South Australian sides primed for their unique challenges

On June 28, Adelaide United, MetroStars, and Campbelltown City were dealt differing fates for the Australia Cup Round of 32. As the competition approaches, Front Page Football looks at the unique challenges awaiting each side.

Adelaide United will be aiming to win their fourth Australia Cup, with the club's most recent triumph in the competition coming in 2019. (Twitter: @AdelaideUnited)


As most South Australian football fans will take no time to remind you, Adelaide United is the premier historical team concerning the Australia Cup in the modern era, previously known as the FFA Cup. The three-time winners are usually one of the teams to watch regarding the Australia Cup draw. After being eliminated in the quarter-finals of the 2021 and 2022 editions, Carl Veart’s men will be keen to reclaim their crown in 2023.


In their second appearance on the national stage, Northcote City stands in their way. Northcote is one of a handful of local sides in this year's competition who are not in the top division of their NPL, instead entering the tie sitting midtable in the NPL Victoria 2, the second division of Victorian football.


Adelaide United has faced and conquered multiple member federation clubs such as APIA Leichhardt, Floreat Athena, Bentleigh Greens, and Darwin Olympic. They did famously stumble against NPL Queensland side Redlands FC in 2016, being eliminated from the Australia Cup months after their 2015/16 A-League Grand Final triumph.


Northcote City is an interesting opponent for the Reds. They face a side from the second division of a member federation competition for the first time in their history. While Carl Veart's side may be stacked with A-Leagues-level talent, Hraklis will have the advantage of match fitness on their side, being in the tail end of their NPL Victoria 2 campaign.


As his team's pre-season began, Adelaide United coach Veart spoke about the challenge his side faces against Northcote, despite being the overwhelming favourites.


"It is very important to the club. The club has a great history in the Australia Cup, and it is something that we want to carry on. It is always difficult when you play against the NPL teams; they make it very difficult for you, especially as we are coming back into pre-season and they are in the middle of their season. We will do our homework on Northcote in the next couple of weeks and plan and prepare for that game," Veart said.


Since taking over the reins at Adelaide United, Carl Veart has guided the Reds to three consecutive A-League Men Semi-Final appearances while also focusing on developing the next generation of South Australian footballers. Despite that, Veart's Australia Cup record, which consists of two Quarter-Final exits, has been underwhelming compared to the club's proud history in the competition.


After extending his stay in the Adelaide United top job by three seasons, Veart will undoubtedly become one of the most recognised Adelaide United managers when he concludes his time at the club. But intriguingly, he remains the only permanent Reds manager since John Kosmina's second spell, which ended in 2013, not to win silverware. He hopes to change this fact with a positive 2023 Australia Cup as his side pursues to break their record and win a fourth Australia Cup title.

While Adelaide United will head to Melbourne for their tie against Northcote, NPL SA leaders and Federation Cup winners MetroStars will host NPL WA cellar-dwellers Inglewood United. Despite sitting in the lower region of their competition, Inglewood are only four points off a Finals Series spot. In contrast, the MetroStars sit three points above second-placed Campbelltown City and 19 points ahead of third-placed Adelaide City in South Australia's top flight.

Ties between South Australian and Western Australian sides have been as common as they have been one-sided in recent years, with South Australian sides winning all six Australia Cup encounters against their counterparts across the Nullarbor since the competition relaunched in 2014.


In those six encounters, the South Australian sides have managed to record 20 goals while only conceding six, with three coming in Adelaide Olympic's victory over Floreat Athena, a seven-goal thriller, in 2019. Intriguingly, the MetroStars will be only the second South Australian side to host a Western Australian side in the Australia Cup modern era, the only other occasion being Adelaide United in the Final in 2014 against Perth Glory.


The MetroStars enter this clash on top of their game concerning form and confidence. They are returning to the national stage of the competition for the first time since 2017 when they disappointingly went down to the Bankstown Berries away from home. Before 2023, Metro had qualified for the Round of 32 three times, advancing to the Round of 16 once, in 2015, where they were eliminated by Victorian powerhouse Oakleigh Cannons.


Speaking to Front Page Football before his side’s Federation Cup Final victory over Campbelltown City, MetroStars midfielder Fabian Barbiero shared fond memories of competitions like the Australia Cup and the NPL National Finals. He referenced his side’s win over Bonnyrigg in the 2014 NPL National Final, where he scored the game's only goal, as a moment that bonded that squad together.


“To get back on the national stage is quite exciting, especially for the ones that have never been there before. I was one of the lucky ones to be a part of that, with a few others in this team, to travel interstate and play against those top sides across the nation. We had some tough encounters, but we managed to knock off all the teams we came across, and winning that final against Bonnyrigg was a very special moment for the club and myself,” Barbiero said.


As a club with long-term National Second Tier aspirations, Barbiero stated the stage the Australia Cup provides is perfect for the MetroStars' ambitions. This platform allows players with high aspirations to express themselves and the club to showcase its capabilities to a larger audience.


“MetroStars have always been striving to be the best, and that is the direction they want to go, and they want to be a part of that. But it is baby steps; for example, appointing Danny as a full-time Head Coach, there’s been some change around the club for that," Barbiero added.


“We have that quality, even our junior setup as well, we’ve got some great juniors coming through, and we can produce some quality players to come through the ranks and progress their careers professionally, be it in Australia or overseas.”


While the MetroStars are hosting a side they are heavily fancied to beat, neither manager Danny Graystone nor his men will take their opposition lightly as they plot to return the club to the Round of 16 of this competition for the first time since 2015.


Campbelltown City inarguably has the most formidable challenge of the three South Australian sides, being the only one of the trio to draw an A-League Men opponent. The Red Devils will take on Macarthur FC after Mile Sterjovski's side demolished Perth Glory to qualify for the competition's final rounds.


Macarthur may be the current holders of the Australia Cup, but they enter the 2023 edition as a completely different team. After a positive start to life under Dwight Yorke, performances tailed off, and the club and coach mutually decided to part ways during the 2022/23 A-League Men season.


Since that moment, coincidentally in Adelaide, the Bulls finished last in the A-League Men for the first time in the club's short history. Performances under Sterjovski may have remained the same in the second part of the season. But the trust the incoming coach placed in the quality of the next generation of Macarthur players became apparent in their dazzling encounter against Perth Glory in Darwin.


On route to their maiden Australia Cup triumph, Macarthur visited Adelaide, defeating the Modbury Jets. But Michael Matricciani's Campbelltown City is an entirely different proposition. In 2022, albeit eventually clinching automatic promotion to the NPL, Modbury Jets were a State League One side. Campbelltown enters this clash against Macarthur placed second in South Australia's top flight with 15 wins from 20 matches.


Many may dismiss Macarthur's cup chances after a poor A-League Men season. But the Bulls will plan to replicate Melbourne Victory's 2021 feat, where new coach Tony Popovic helped his side transition from a wooden spoon-winning season to winning the Australia Cup.


As is always the case with these encounters, the NPL side will enter this clash with match-fitness on their side. Despite not having the resources of their A-League Men counterparts, Campbelltown will be backing their quality and cohesion, which gave Melbourne City a fight in 2019 to make life hard for their opponents - ironically based in Sydney's Campbelltown - and potentially cause a notable upset.


In the lead-up to Campbelltown City's Federation Cup Final against the MetroStars, Red Devils midfielder Adam Piscioneri spoke to Front Page Football about the last time his side appeared in the Australia Cup Round of 32.

Similarly to 2023, the 2019 edition of the Cup saw Campbelltown host an A-League side. On that day, it was Melbourne City, one of the country’s powerhouse clubs.


Piscioneri started the game, and despite ending up on the losing side of a competitive encounter, the midfielder shared his fond memories of the occasion.


“The crowd at Campbelltown was fantastic to see; I think it was over 3000 people packed into Steve Woodcock. It was something I’ve never experienced before at that ground,” Piscioneri recalled.


“I absolutely loved it, I loved playing against the highest quality in Australia, and that is what we aim for, to always play against the highest quality of players and teams that we can in order to test ourselves and make our team a lot better. Returning to that stage is something we have been looking forward to.”


Local clubs look forward to such occasions, and with the eyes of the Australian football community on Campbelltown City, Matricciani’s side will be backing themselves to produce an upset against their fancied opponents.


South Australian clubs have been strong performers in the Australia Cup. Adelaide United, MetroStars, and Campbelltown City hope to strengthen that record further by taking care of their challenges and advancing to the Round of 16 of the competition.

 

READ MORE ON FPF

What makes the Australia Cup such a distinctive competition is seeing the country's football ecosystem become interconnected. This interconnectedness can be seen in all three upcoming South Australian ties.


Three-time Australia Cup champions Adelaide United, led by Socceroo Craig Goodwin, who scored in Qatar against France, takes on a side in Victoria's second tier with part-time players who will be working their day jobs hours before the match kicks off while hoping they can write a new, striking chapter in the story of Australian football later that night.


The MetroStars will not only play a match in Adelaide amid a near-perfect season, but they will also host the match at their ground, T.K. Shutter Reserve, in Klemzig. Hosting the game at their spiritual home is a reward for the players and their achievements but also for the volunteers helping to run the club. They will have their work broadcast for a national audience when they look to advance against Western Australia's Inglewood United.


Finally, Campbelltown City has a free hit at one of Australian football's 12 professional clubs, an opportunity that only comes around occasionally for semi-professional players. A positive performance, and a potential victory, will be spoken about for years in Newton. With a mooted National Second Tier supposed to be launched in 2024, it can provide a well-deserved opportunity for ambitious players like Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio to grab the spotlight and take their careers to the next level.


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