Is the A-Leagues’ Unite Round worth persisting with next season?
One of the best moments of the A-Leagues’ inaugural Unite Round took place in front of just over a thousand fans, while most of those tuning in on TV were watching a different game.
Canberra United’s veteran striker Michelle Heyman became the first A-League Women player to notch 100 goals in the competition when she hit the milestone in her side’s 3-1 win over Adelaide United at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday afternoon.
Heyman made her debut in what was then the W-League for Sydney FC in the competition’s inaugural season back in 2008, and she’s still scoring goals for the club she has since become a legend with more than 15 years later.
The 35-year-old bagged a brace in Canberra’s come-from-behind win over the Reds in steamy conditions in Sydney’s inner west – not that many seemed to be watching.
That was arguably the theme of the round, despite A-Leagues commissioner Nick Garcia saying in the lead-up to Unite Round that tickets “were selling strongly” and predicting upwards of 42,000 visitors to Sydney for the three-day event.
In the end, only 47,425 fans attended the 12 games in total – but that doesn’t necessarily mean the whole thing was a bust.
There were some plus sides, not least the chance to remind a few staunch A-League Men fans that the women’s league also exists.
More than a few visiting supporters who made the journey to Sydney intermingled inside Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, and they probably would have enjoyed the night even further had the live site set up in the Entertainment Quarter at Moore Park actually managed to show the Socceroos game.
The A-Leagues later tweeted that a “heavy downpour” which “damaged the technology” was the reason no one could change the channel from the Big Bash League being screened on the live site TVs, although several fans who turned up at the standby venue said the few staff around had no idea the Socceroos game was even on.
Other fans claimed only Western Sydney Wanderers merchandise was available at Commbank Stadium on Friday night, despite the fact that three other sides – including local rivals Macarthur – were also playing at the venue.
Meanwhile, at least one Brisbane fan claimed security at Allianz Stadium told visiting Roar supporters they weren’t allowed to sing “anti-Sydney FC chants” during the Roar’s dramatic 3-2 win over the Newcastle Jets.
Not for the first time, the APL’s ability to make bold proclamations about benefiting fans and organising plans that actually do so are clearly two different things.
Barely a week has gone by this season when I haven’t received a private message from someone in the game telling me how bewildered they are with the APL’s performance.
The general consensus seems to be that the City Football Group is firmly in control, behind the scenes, and thoroughly uninterested in receiving feedback.
At any rate, Unite Round’s biggest positives invariably came on the pitch – from Heyman’s milestone brace, to the 28 goals scored across all six men’s fixtures.
Western Sydney Wanderers arguably came out the biggest winners of the weekend, downing Melbourne City 1-0 in Parramatta on Friday on the back of coach Marko Rudan agreeing to a new three-year extension with the club.
Not that Wellington Phoenix will necessarily agree, after the Kiwi side battled to a thrilling 4-3 win over the luckless Perth Glory at CommBank Stadium on Sunday night (which I missed because I was watching the Brisbane Roar game).
So, is Unite Round worth pursuing again next season? And how can it be improved?
That’s something Socceroos coach Graham Arnold knows his side will also need to do after Australia laboured to a 2-0 win over India in their Asian Cup opener.
Will Riley McGree and Jordy Bos come into contention for a starting role against Syria on Thursday night, after combining off the bench for Australia’s second goal on Saturday night?
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Time will tell.
Much like Unite Round, this Socceroos side is still a work in progress.