A-League Olyroos: the defensive unit

They’re the rising Australian stars who provided rearguard action in defensive units around the A-League in 2020/21.

These are the goalkeepers and defenders who join Graham Arnold’s 22-player Olyroos squad set to compete at the Men’s Football Tournament at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games. 

As the countdown to Tokyo 2020 continues, read on to see how each of the selected players fared throughout the 2020/21 A-League campaign.

A-LEAGUE OLYROOS: The engine room
The strikeforce

Thomas Glover – Melbourne City 

A-League 2020/21 stats

  • Position: Goalkeeper
  • Games: 27
  • Clean sheets: 8
  • Shots on target faced/saved: 84/48
  • Save percentage: 62%
  • Clearances: 21

Melbourne City’s consistent goalkeeper helped his club to the Premiership/Championship double in the 2020/21 A-League season.

After suffering the anguish of Grand Final heartbreak in a 1-0 loss to Sydney FC in 2019/20, having conceded the solitary goal to Sydney FC’s Rhyan Grant in the first half of additional extra time, Glover and City returned with a vengeance in a fresh campaign – however not everything went to plan early doors.

Glover kept just one clean sheet in his first six games, which produced two wins and four losses, including a three-game losing streak. Questions were asked of City’s ability to get back to the brink of glory in 2020/21, before a club-record winning streak of six games turned the momentum.

Glover kept four consecutive clean sheets along the six-game run, with his fourth shut-out in a row coming against the ladder leaders Central Coast Mariners as City burst into Premiership favouritism. 


City progressed into the Finals Series after taking out the Premiers Plate, and Glover’s eighth and final clean sheet of the season helped his side emerge as 2-0 victors over Macarthur FC in a Semi Final bout. Into the Grand Final City went, to once again face the Sky Blues. But this time there would be no heartbreak for Glover, despite conceding the opening goal of the game to a Kosta Barbarouses rocket.

Down the other end, Glover’s teammates helped steady the ship and overturn the deficit to run out 3-1 winners. Glover now prepares to link up with the Olyroos squad having secured two pieces of silverware at club level looking to add an Olympic medal to his collection in Tokyo. 

Thomas Glover

Joel King – Sydney FC

A-League 2020/21 stats

  • Position: Left-back
  • Games: 28
  • Clean sheets: 10
  • Tackles: 48
  • Duels: 195
  • Passes/accuracy: 1419/83.3%
  • Assists: 3

Sydney FC full-back Joel King was honoured as A-League Young Player of the Year at the Dolan Warren Awards in June for his second full season operating in a star-studded Sky Blues backline. 

20-year-old King played 28 times for the Sky Blues on the left side of defence, alongside current and former Socceroos Alex Wilkinson, Ryan McGowan, Rhyan Grant and goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne. 

The dependable defender contributed to 10 clean sheets throughout the season to help his team reach the A-League Grand Final for a third-successive season. Defeat to City ended Sydney FC’s hopes of a securing a third Championship on the bounce. 

King enjoyed his first outing of the 2020/21 campaign, creating four chances, passing at 91.7% accuracy in the final third and notching an assist for Calem Nieuwenhof’s long-range stunner in a 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix.

King’s nomination for Young Player of the Year came late in the campaign as he showed out for the Sky Blues throughout May and June, contributing to four clean sheets across seven games which included a five-game winning streak.

King preceded to play a pivotal role in booking the Sky Blues a spot in the 2020/21 title decider, assisting Bobô’s finish in a 2-1 Semi Final win over Adelaide United, before eventually falling short against City in the Grand Final. 


Nathaniel Atkinson – Melbourne City

A-League 2020/21 stats

  • Position: Right-back
  • Games: 14
  • Goals: 2
  • Assists: 2
  • Clean sheets: 5
  • Tackles: 33
  • Duels: 165

Nathaniel Atkinson’s 2020/21 A-League season was a rollercoaster ride from start to finish which ended on the highest of highs. 

Atkinson, like Sydney’s King, was in line for Young Player of the Season honours after earning the March nomination for featuring in five wins and contributing to three clean sheets throughout the month.

The full-back shone against the Mariners on March 22, enjoying a 100% tackle success rate, taking 96 touches, passing 74 times at an accuracy of 91.9% and scoring the second goal in his team’s impressive victory.


Atkinson’s sparkling early season form was to come to an abrupt halt when the gun defender suffered a high-grade hamstring tear against Wellington Phoenix in April. The Tasmanian was ruled out for “two to three months” in the club’s official statement on April 8. His A-League campaign appeared over, and his Olympic hopes were cast in shadow.

But Atkinson made a surprising return to action at the end of the regular season, appearing for 45 minutes in his side’s 2-1 loss to Newcastle Jets more than two months after succumbing to injury against the ‘Nix. 

Atkinson would go on to play 89 minutes in City’s Semi Final win over Macarthur FC, before creating six chances, taking 77 touches and scoring an emphatic goal in a Grand Final performance to savour against Sydney FC.


Atkinson left the field with two medals draped around his neck: one for becoming an A-League Champion, the other – the Joe Marston Medal – awarded to the best on ground.

Atkinson’s sensational A-League return was capped off by selection in the Olyroos squad just days later. His fairytale comeback could get even better as he cracks into Australia’s upcoming fixtures with a third medal at the forefront of his mind.

Kye Rowles – Central Coast Mariners

A-League 2020/21 stats

  • Position: Centre-back
  • Games: 27
  • Clean sheets: 8
  • Passes attempted/accuracy: 1,518/85.2%
  • Tackles: 30
  • Duels: 157
  • Recoveries: 153

Central Coast Mariners built their revolution in 2020/21 on the solid foundation provided by Olyroo Kye Rowles and his centre-back partner Ruon Tongyik in the heart of defence. From there, under the guidance of Alen Stajcic, the Mariners put an end to the club’s six-season run without Finals Series football to secure a third-place finish on the A-League table.

Rowles’ stellar contribution to the Mariners’ cause was reflected at the club’s end of season awards night as the rising star collected the Mariners Medal and Players’ Player of the Year award.

A pair of clean sheets kick-started Rowles’ 2020/21 campaign as the Mariners burst out of the blocks with successive wins against Newcastle Jets and Macarthur FC. A third shut-out was to follow in a 2-0 win against Sydney FC in Matchweek 5, as the Mariners ignited their early charge into Premiership contention.

Ruon Tongyik; Kye Rowles

Two sensational 3-2 comeback wins against Melbourne City and Western United in consecutive games took the Mariners to five wins from seven, before Rowles put on one of his best performances of the season in a 2-0 victory over Wellington Phoenix as the Gosford side put three wins in a row on the board.

Rowles took 91 touches and played 84 passes at 89.3% accuracy in that particular fixture, engaging in seven duels and making nine ball recoveries.

The Mariners’ rampant early form eventually tapered off, with four wins coming from Rowles’ final 16 games of the campaign. A 2-0 Elimination Final loss to Macarthur FC saw Rowles and the Mariners fall at the first Finals Series hurdle.

The up-and-coming defender put pen to paper on a fresh two-year deal with the club in the aftermath of the 2020/21 campaign, signalling his confidence in the Gosford club to continue its upward trajectory under new boss Nick Montgomery.

MORE: Which A-League clubs featured Olympic-bound talent in 2020/21