With just 20 minutes between them and a fourth Championship, Melbourne Victory will look back on the 2016/17 campaign with heavy hearts. We examine their campaign and look ahead to the 2017/18 season.
Position: 2nd, beaten grand finalists
Record: Played 29, Won 16, Drawn 5, Lost 8
Leading Goal Scorer: Besart Berisha (21)
Best home crowd: 43,188 – Round 2 against Melbourne City
Star performer: Besart Berisha
It was yet another double-figure goal season – a sixth in succession – for a striker who is simply unparalleled in his quest for goals and goal-scoring records. His 21 this season matched his best-ever season tally and along the way he passed Archie Thompson at the top of the all-time Hyundai A-League list before becoming the first player to chalk up 100 goals.
What can’t be ignored – and what sits behind the incredible numbers he continues to put up – is the tireless work the Kosovo international puts in to create chances for himself and others. Given the choice of any player in the competition, most (if not all) of the other coaches would poach ‘Bes’ before anyone else.
Breakout player: Lawrence Thomas
Being the number two goalkeeper must be one of the most thankless tasks in football – sitting on the bench each week, but rarely getting the chance to play.
After a mere 21 games in his previous five seasons and biding his time behind the likes of Ante Covic, Nathan Coe and Danny Vukovic, Thomas finally got his chance to shine and grabbed it with both of his very safe hands, putting in a series of excellent performances and forming a crucial part of Victory’s defence.
Goal of the year: Marco Rojas
Everyone remembers Tim Cahill’s goal in the season’s first derby, but the “Kiwi Messi” scored an equally eye-catching goal in the same game.
At 3-0 down, he collected the ball on the edge of the penalty area and with dazzling footwork weaved his way between four defenders before calmly sliding the ball under Dean Bouzanis to pull one back for Victory. It was a memorable moment on an otherwise forgettable night for the Big V.
Highlight: Nine-game purple patch
A round five loss to Sydney FC dropped Victory out of the top four for what would eventually be the final time in 2016/17. From there, they went on an unbeaten nine-game streak (which included eight wins), scoring 24 goals and conceding just seven.
Besart Berisha netted eight goals in that streak but the scoring load was well and truly shared around with Max Beister, Fahid Ben Khalfallah, James Troisi, Marco Rojas, James Donachie and Oliver Bozanic all on the scoresheet in that stretch of games. Most satisfying was the round ten derby win, which put to bed the humiliating 4-1 loss in round two.
Lowlight: Grand Final heartbreak
Simply making the grand final would be enough for some clubs, but not the three-time champions. The fact they outplayed (and outmuscled) Sydney FC in the first half and took a deserved lead before the Sky Blues came roaring back to equalise would make it even tougher to accept.
Victory also came within inches of winning the game in extra-time when James Troisi’s precise effort agonizingly hit the inside of the post and rebounded away. Once a game goes to penalties it’s very much fifty-fifty with Carl Valeri and Marco Rojas failing to convert to leave Victory just short.
What they need:
The single biggest retention issue for Victory is James Troisi. The Caltex Socceroo was a massive part of their success in 2016/17 and he’ll need to be offered an improved deal to stay for another season and beyond.
If he can be retained, there really aren’t any other gaping holes in the roster, although building depth to cover the departures of some squad players may be in order. A couple of attackers and a left-back would also be helpful.
Acquisitions for next season:
Rhys Williams, Thomas Deng.
Losses for next season:
Daniel Georgievski, Rashid Mahazi, Fahid Ben Khalfallah, Nick Ansell, Alan Baro, Alastair Bray, George Howard, Lucas Spinella.
Outlook for 2017/18:
The way 2016/17 ended will sting, and there’s no more dangerous animal than a wounded Kevin Muscat, who will spend the next few months plotting the downfall of Sydney FC and an elusive fourth championship for his own side. The retention of the vast majority of his squad, as well as the acquisition of the excellent Rhys Williams will ensure Victory are again the Sky Blues’ closest challengers for the title in 2017/18.