NPL Finals Series – Grand Final
2.30pm Sunday 2nd October at Sydney United Sports Centre
Road to the Final:
Edgeworth Eagles FC
Quarter Final – Defeated Bentleigh Greens 3-1 (a)
Semi-Final – Defeated Perth SC 1-0 (a)
Sydney United 58
Quarter Final – Defeated Adelaide City 5-4 (h)
Semi-Final – Defeated Brisbane Strikers 2-1 (h)
The Edgeworth Eagles fairytale season continued last weekend when they travelled to Perth and knocked off the Minor and Major Premiers from the NPL WA, while Sydney United 58 showed their class with a come-from-behind win against the Brisbane Strikers from NPL Queensland.
Of the three previous seasons of the NPL Finals Series, teams from the NPL NSW have dominated the competition, winning two of the three finals. The only year a team from NPL NSW didn’t win the final was in 2014 when the MetroStars from Adelaide claimed a 1-0 victory over Bonnyrigg.
Blacktown won the competition last year against Bayswater City from Perth while Sydney United won the inaugural competition in 2013 – 2-0 over South Hobart. A win for Sydney United on Sunday and they will be the first side to win the NPL Finals competition for a second time.
While this is United’s second appearance in the NPL Finals competition, that is also the case for the visiting Eagles. Knocked out 3-1 by Moreton Bay last year in the Quarter Finals, not many expected them to do much damage in the competition in 2016.
But, by not expecting the Eagles to perform well in the competition, you it was because you hadn’t watched enough of their performances this season. They lost just three matches the whole year, two against Hamilton Olympic in the NPL Northern NSW and one against the Western Sydney Wanderers in the FFA Cup. Not a bad record to have.
It was a similar season for Sydney United 58, they won the minor premiership by a massive nine points from last years’ minor premiers Blacktown City. But, as happened last year to Blacktown in the Grand Final against Bonnyrigg, Sydney United couldn’t claim the double and lost the Grand Final 3-0 to Blacktown.
Like Edgeworth, they lost twice during the regular season – against Blacktown and Manly and went down twice to Blacktown in the finals series. In the FFA Cup, they went down again to their nemesis, Blacktown. After leading 2-0 inside the opening 13 minutes they crumbled to those 6-2 in extra-time. Coach Mark Rudan will no doubt have some unfinished business and would love to claim an automatic berth in the 2017 FFA Cup Round of 32 with a win on Sunday.
The key players for both sides come in the front third. For the Eagles it is undoubtedly Daniel McBreen, with Edgeworth president Warren Mills telling the media this week that the club would pay to fly their striker home from his family holiday in Fiji and then back again. McBreen’s crisp control and volley for the winner on Saturday evening against Perth SC was one of pure class and his experience has helped mould an Eagles side which was dominant in Northern NSW in 2015 to a side which has been dominant over Australia in 2016.
They are not a one-man team though with the likes of Keanu Moore in the midfield and Josh Evans at the back providing the foundations for a side who conceded 19 goals in 18 matches across the league season. Leading scorer Keigo Moriyasu, who found the net 17 times in the NPL Northern NSW, has come off the bench against Bentleigh and Perth, and hasn’t had much impact so far in the finals. Maybe this is his chance to stand tall.
Former Mariners and North Queensland Fury midfielder Panny Nikas has played a starring role in the NPL Finals series for Sydney United and if his hot run of form continues, the Eagles backline will have a tough afternoon. Nikas scored 17 regular season goals in the NPL NSW, and while he was bettered by teammate and former A-League striker Chris Payne with 22, it has been Nikas who has scored five of United’s last seven goals.
At the back Tomislav Uskok played a significant role in the home side’s miserly defence this season, as they conceded just 21 in 22 regular season matches. Goalkeeper Tom Manos may only be 20, but is a wonderful shot-stopper.
With a spot in the Round of 32 of the 2017 FFA Cup on the line, this match could go either way, but it will be home side Sydney United 58 who will go into the match as the favourites as they look to make it a NPL NSW winner in the NPL Finals for the third time in four years.