How can the APL convince casual fans the A-League Men is worth supporting?


There was no better illustration of the agony and ecstasy that makes football so unique than Sydney FC’s stoppage-time winner over Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday.

Just when the Wanderers thought they’d put a real dent in the Sky Blues’ top-four aspirations, up stepped Jaiden Kucharski.

The 21-year-old has long been considered one of Sydney FC’s most talented youngsters, but the bounce of the ball hasn’t quite fallen his way this season.

Until now.

The Wanderers thought they’d stolen a point from their city rivals when substitute Zac Sapsford came off the bench to head home his second derby goal of the season in what was the fifth minute of an enthralling period of stoppage time.

But with the Wanderers desperate for at least a point, they failed to track the run of Kucharski at the far post – allowing the Sydney FC substitute to side-foot home a bouncing volley in front of The Cove in the 98th minute of the game.

It was a reminder of the yin and yang of football and the perfect illustration of what makes the sport such an engrossing spectacle.

(Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

We saw similar on Friday night, when Adelaide United’s departing hero Nestory Irankunda attempted to single-handedly take down Macarthur at a packed Coopers Stadium.

The teenager almost succeeded, after his stunning drive gave the Reds an early lead in front of a febrile atmosphere at what is undoubtedly the best stadium in the league.

But back-to-back defeats meant the Bulls were desperate for the points themselves, and when the hugely influential Valere Germain chested down a cross from substitute Kristian Popovic, it was lashed home by another substitute in Ariath Piol.

And the two fans in the away section were in dreamland four minutes later when Danny de Silva hung up a cross at the back post for Tommy Smith to head home.

It was a stunning fightback from a visiting side that looked out of the contest for long stretches of match, but the drama was far from over.

The Bulls had already gone down to 10 men when a stray elbow from Yianna Nicolau collected Irankunda flush across the face, and coach Mile Sterjovski must have wondered which ladder he’d stepped under when a VAR check awarded the Reds a penalty for handball some seven minutes into stoppage time.

With Adelaide’s regular penalty taker Zach Clough no longer on the pitch, it was left to 18-year-old Irankunda to step up and try and secure a point to help keep Adelaide’s slim finals chance alive.

Except Filip Kurto was having none of it.

The Polish shot-stopper clearly had zero interest in building the confidence of Australian football’s most talented youngster, with the Macarthur goalkeeper getting down low to parry Irankunda’s drilled effort.

It was a superb save from one of the most effective imports the A-League Men has seen in recent years, and it pretty much ended Adelaide’s season as a going concern.

Irankunda was distraught, but he still stuck around to sign autographs in what was his final game at Coopers Stadium before joining Bundesliga giants Bayern München.

There are terrific storylines across the A-League Men – if you know where to look.

The trouble for the Australian Professional Leagues is that an ever-diminishing number of fans are looking.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the APL should be formulating some strategies now to try and win back stay-away fans next season.

Which could be easier said than done if some of the more alarming rumours about the financial state of the competition turn out to be true.

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It’s all well and good to highlight the positive aspects of the A-League Men.

But if there’s no Newcastle Jets next season, or Brisbane Roar can’t afford to pay the rent at Suncorp Stadium, we’ve got a huge problem.

The APL needs to find a way to reconnect with a fan base that has abandoned the league in worrying numbers.

And they need to start now – lest we get stuck having the exact same conversation at the same time next season.

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