The Soccer Desk

Wanderers, Mariners look for First Grand Final Win

(photo: ZImbio.com)

The Event: The Hyundai A-League Grand Final Match
The Time: 2AM EDT Sunday Morning (Fox Soccer Channel; coverage begins at 12:30AM)
The Venue: Allianz Stadium (Sydney Football Stadium), Sydney
The Matchup: Western Sydney Wanderers (18W-3D-6L, 1st place) vs. Central Coast Mariners (16W-6D-5L, 2nd place)
The History: Series tied (1-1-1): 0-0 draw, 2-0 CCM, 1-0 WSW

The Hyundai A-League distinguishes the winners of its regular season from that of its playoff champion by given them different names: “Premiers” and “Champions”, respectively.  That doesn’t diminish the drama from the game, and this year’s game is no different.  Both teams looking for their first Championship, both teams with something to prove.

Western Sydney, who debuted this year in place of the defunct Gold Coast United, were expected to finish towards the bottom of the table.  They struggled in the early going, getting just three wins from their first nine games.  The turning point, however, came on December 21st at home against then-league leaders Adelaide United, when they posted a 6-1 win behind a Mark Bridge hat trick.  The club comes into the Final having lost just one match and drew two from their final 18 regular season appearances (Their last loss? 2-0 to Central Coast on January 6th).  The team has relied on its defense, allowing just 21 goals in 28 games this year (0.75 GAA), the league’s best.  The hot streak catapulted them to first place, where they captured the premiership.  After two weeks off, they knocked off two-time defending champion Brisbane last weekend at home, 2-0, to advance to the final.  Bridge and former Feyenoord midfielder Shinji Ono will try to pace the Wanderers offensively, while the team is hoping that injured midfielder Aaron Mooy will return from injury in time to make the starting XI.

Their opponent, the Central Coast Mariners, are trying to avoid gaining Buffalo Bills / New England Revolution status by losing their fourth championship game (2006, 2008, 2011 being their other appearances).  They finished second in the regular season, hanging onto that spot despite losing three out of four matches late in the year, and held off Melbourne Victory, 1-0, in their semi-final.  The Mariners defense allowed just one more goal, 22, than WSW’s did this year, and their offense was tied for first, scoring 48 goals during the regular year.  Central Coast sports the league’s Golden Boot winner in Daniel McBreen (17 goals), and a secondary scoring threat in Bernie Ibini-Isei (7 goals) and Michael McGlinchey (6).  The Mariners have Grand Final experience, however that experience was nightmarish.  The 2011 Grand Final saw the Mariners blow a 2-goal extra time lead to Brisbane, only to lose in penalty kicks.  Some of the players from that club will be playing on Sunday in Sydney, trying to erase that memory.

Both teams will be missing key players due to red cards in the semi-final.  Western Sydney’s Dutch midfielder Youssuf Hersi picked up two yellow cards against Brisbane, while the Mariners’ Scottish midfielder Nick Montgomery was sent off in their match against Melbourne Victory.

The game will be played at the Syndey Football Stadium, which is a larger venue than Western Sydney’s home ground of Parramatta Stadium.  Two of Central Coast’s three defeats in the Grand Final have come at this ground.  Despite its proximity to the Wanderer’s home turf, both clubs supporters are expected to be well represented, with the Red and Black Block and the Marinators expected to be in full throat.